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Successful ruling in 'Right To Die' case

Lawyers for a British man in his forties who has locked-in syndrome and wants to end his own life have expressed relief that they can continue to act on his behalf.

27 January 2012

Lawyers for a British man in his forties who has locked-in syndrome and wants to end his own life have expressed relief that they can continue to act on his behalf without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action after a High Court ruling today.

The man, who cannot be named but is known as AM or Martin, is unable to move and only able to communicate by moving his eyes. In August 2011 Leigh Day & Co launched a legal bid on his behalf to gain professional assistance to end his own life.

Lawyers from the firm’s Human Rights team successfully urged two judges at the High Court to grant them a declaration, which will protect them and third parties, including doctors, during preparations for this landmark judicial review action brought by AM.

Making the order, Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mr Justice Charles, described it as a "tragic" and "exceptional" case which raised "thorny legal and ethical issues".

The parties involved include the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the solicitors' own regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the General Medical Council (GMC).

The judges granted a declaration for the "broad purpose" of "stating that the solicitors may obtain information from third parties and from appropriate experts for the purpose of placing material before the court and that third parties may co-operate in so doing without the people involved acting in any way unlawfully".

Part of the order means that Leigh Day & Co can communicate with Dignitas for information about its services and also take steps to "identify one or more people or bodies that might be willing to assist Martin".

Rosa Curling, from the human rights team at Leigh Day & Co, said: "We are grateful for the court's judgment handed down today, which confirms that we can press ahead with the preparation of our client's case without fear of criminal and/or disciplinary action being taken against us.

"Martin has made clear to us that he wishes to end his life and, thanks to the judgment handed down today in the High Court, we can now proceed with preparing his legal claim.

"We can instruct doctors to advise him on his options regarding his wish to die and also take steps to identify an individual who might be willing to assist him in taking his life."

Background to Forthcoming Judicial Review on behalf of AM

Through the full judicial review process AM is to ask the DPP to amend his current guidance regarding assisted suicide, so if professionals were to help him to end his life, they would not face criminal and/or disciplinary action.

Without such help from professionals, AM will not be able to fulfil his wish, to end his life. No family member is willing to help him do this.

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 that 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.

In a painstakingly written statement to the Court from AM using a specialist computer operated by his eyes, he expressed the love he has for his wife who is also his carer and for his family. But he explains that he finds his life and his condition following his stroke to be undignified, distressing and intolerable and that he does not wish to continue to live in this way.

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.

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

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