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Updated 01 August 2013

Landmark right-to-die appeal dismissed

A British court has rejected appeals for the right to die by a paralysed road accident victim and the family of a deceased locked-in syndrome sufferer.

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A British court rejected appeals for the right to die by a paralysed road accident victim and the family of a deceased locked-in syndrome sufferer on Wednesday, saying only parliament should decide on matters of life and death.

The Court of Appeal said the law on assisted suicide could not be changed by the courts, quashing the appeal by paralysed man Paul Lamb and the family of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered locked-in syndrome, where someone is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate.

He refused food and medication after he lost his bid to end his life with a doctor's help last year, and died a week later.

"The short answer must be, and always has been, that the law relating to assisting suicide cannot be changed by judicial decision," Igor Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, said in the ruling, which is sure to spark more debate over a person's right to choose when and how to end his or her life.

Another paralysed man, known only as Martin, won a separate case on Wednesday seeking clarification of prosecution guidance for health workers who help others to die.

Assisting in death an offence

In Britain, anyone who helps another person to kill themselves commits the offence of assisted suicide, while a person who carries out euthanasia commits the offence of murder.

Switzerland and the US states of Oregon, Washington and Montana are among the few places where some forms of euthanasia or assisted suicide are legal under certain circumstances.

Lamb, who has been paralysed since a car accident almost 25 years ago, said he was "gutted" by Wednesday's ruling. He is immobile except for limited movement in his right hand, requires 24-hour care and is constantly on morphine to relieve pain.

"I was hoping for a humane and dignified end. This judgment does not give me that," he said in a statement.

The case was an appeal against the Nicklinson decision, whose case was dismissed in August last year.

Nicklinson's wife, Jane, told BBC television: "I saw the way that Tony suffered and I would hate to think of anyone else suffering the way he did."

But expert and public opinion is divided over whether people should have the right to be helped to die.

British disability charity Scope opposes giving the right to people with disabilities to kill themselves.

Talking about the hearing earlier this year, the charity's chief executive, Richard Hawkes, wrote: "These cases are unbearably tragic, but they cannot be the basis for changing a law that could affect millions."

 
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