In July 2018 Noel Conway, who suffers from motor neurone disease, lost his claim for a declaration that the UK’s ban on assisted suicide was a disproportionate and unnecessary interference with his right to autonomy under Article 8. The Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
Mr Conway has said that he is now faced with two “grim choices”; either to turn off his ventilator – which he relies on for 23 hours a day – and face the possibility of a drawn-out death of asphyxia, or to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland in which event he would risk his family being prosecuted for accompanying him.
In February, the Royal College of Physicians will poll its 35,000 members on the question of assisted dying. The members will be asked if it should be made legal in this country, and if they would be prepared to “participate actively” in assisted dying if the law was changed.
In Episode 63 of Law Pod UK, Rosalind English discusses the campaign to change the law with Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying. The campaign group maintains that medically-assisted death should be available and legal for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. Sarah Wootton said that the RCP should be congratulated for its commitment to engage with its members, given the evolving context on choice at the end of life.
We believe, as do many of their members, that their opposition to assisted dying does not properly represent the full range of views that doctors have about assisted dying. Modern medicine is increasingly taking the view that patients’ wishes are paramount, and when the vast majority of patients want to see a new law allowing assisted dying, we believe that healthcare professionals should pay attention.
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Citations for cases referred to in the podcast are as follows:
R. (on the application of Conway) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 1431
R (Pretty) v DPP  UKHL 61
R (on the application of Nicklinson and another) (Appellants) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent); R (on the application of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Appellant)  UKSC 38
R (on the application of Purdy) (Appellant) v Director of Public Prosecutions (Respondent)  UKHL 45