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Landmark case as 'locked-in' man seeks professional assistance to end life

British man appeals for help to end his life


18 August 2011

A British man in his forties who has locked-in syndrome following a devastating stroke three years ago, leaving him unable to move and only able to communicate by moving his eyes, is launching a landmark legal bid to gain professional assistance to end his own life. The man, known as AM, requires professional medical and legal support to choose the manner of his death and for these wishes to be carried out.

Unlike previous legal battles in assisted dying cases which have seen close family members willing to help, AM’s wife, whilst respecting her husband’s wishes and wanting to be with him when he dies, does not wish to play any part in bringing about his death.

Given the extent of AM’s disability and with no family member able to assist he now needs advice and help from professionals to take the steps to end his life either by refusing to eat or drink, and being provided with appropriate pain relief and/or sedation to ensure that he does not die in pain, or enabling him to visit Dignitas, the Swiss based euthanasia clinic.

Leigh Day & Co will ask for clarification from the High Court on whether medical and legal staff, acting out of a sense of compassion and professional responsibility, would face criminal prosecution and/or disciplinary proceedings and sanctions from their professional bodies should they take the necessary steps to assist AM.

The latest guidance on assisted dying from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in February 2010 states that whilst each case should be examined on its merits, if the victim had a settled wish to die and the person assisting the suicide was acting out of compassion, then it might be against the public interest to prosecute.

It includes a list of factors which make prosecution more or less likely.  These factors favour friends or relatives of the victim.  People working with the victim in a professional capacity are not favoured and would be likely to face prosecution.

Leigh Day & Co are asking the Court to decide whether this ‘compassionate assistance’ should extend to legal and medical experts, to do for AM some of the things that he is prevented by his stroke from doing for himself.

This assistance would include:

  • Providing AM with information on what it would feel like, how long it would take to die, and what palliative care might be available, were he to stop eating and/or drinking.
  • Carrying out preliminary research about Dignitas and providing Dignitas with information about AM.
  • Identifying professional carers who would be willing to accompany AM to the Dignitas facility in Switzerland.
  • Instructing suitably qualified and concerned senior doctors to advise AM, to confirm his mental capacity, and to provide the necessary reports to Dignitas.
  • Making the necessary arrangements for AM to travel, with his wife and the helpers, to Switzerland.

Leigh Day & Co is also seeking clarification from the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) on whether this assistance for AM, in the event that the DPP decided not to prosecute, would result in disciplinary proceedings for the qualified professionals involved.

In a painstakingly written statement to the Court AM expressed the love he has for his wife who is also his carer and for his family but that he finds his life and his condition following his stroke to be undignified, distressing and intolerable.

AM requires constant care and is entirely dependent upon others for every aspect of his life. The bloodclot at the bottom of his skull, which is believed to have caused the stroke AM suffered, is thought to have formed following a sports injury sustained when he was eighteen years old.

Head of the Human Rights team at Leigh Day & Co., Richard Stein who is representing AM in his legal fight said:
“This is an extremely emotive case for all involved, it asks questions of the DPP and regulatory bodies which need urgent answers as AM requires assistance to at least consider what is for anyone else is a basic human right, to choose how to live and ultimately how to die with dignity.”

AM's application to the High Court was lodged on Tuesday 16 August 2011 and an initial decision from the Court confirming what steps the doctors and lawyers involved in the case can take to prepare the case, without risk of disciplinary action and/or prosecution, is due towards the end of next month. The Court will then consider whether professionals are able to assist AM in ending his life, in whatever way he chooses, be it at Dignitas or by refusing all food and drink.

For more information please contact David Standard on 07540 332717

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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