The right to live, or the right to die, is a controversial subject. Who has ownership of that right, or that life, is constantly being debated – but, sadly, outside of Parliament.
Last week saw a decision in the High Court where a man was refused the backing of the law, to protect doctors from being prosecuted if they aided him to end his own life.
Tony Nicklinson, has been paralysed from the neck down since suffering a stroke in 2005. He is a so called locked-in syndrome sufferer. He can only communicate with the assistance of a computer and has described his life as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”. With the backing of his wife and family, he had sought the right to die.
Whilst showing immense sympathy for his situation, Lord Justice Toulson decreed: “Under our system of government these are matters for parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases.”
He is right. It is not for the courts to make such decisions. They should only be tasked with interpreting existing laws. Our government should stop avoiding such a controversial debate and alleviate the suffering of those who’s sanity is in tact, but who’s quality of life is almost non-existent.
Under existing law, anyone who assists in ending a life is liable to prosecution under our legislation governing murder; in reality, though, life is seldom so black and white.
The right to life should always be protected, but so should the right to a basic quality of life. For Mr Nicklinson, and many others, that is clearly not the case.
Once the law is amended, the courts will be free to make a reasoned judgement, on a case-by-case basis, and restore some dignity to those who are imprisoned within their own bodies and minds.
Until that time, we are effectively condemning sufferers to a life of no life.
UPDATE: Since writing this post yesterday, the sad news has been announced that Tony has passed away at home. I hope he has now found the peace he fought so hard to gain. For many others, though, the fight continues.
Afterthought: Ironically, film director, Tony Scott – a man you would think had everything to live for – had no such problem ending his own life in Los Angeles this week. He was able bodied and he easily managed to plan his death before throwing himself off a bridge. No courts were involved and no-one will have to face prosecution.