The Court of Appeal today unanimously dismissed appeals by road accident victim Paul Lamb and the widow of Tony Nicklinson challenging the legal ban on assisted suicide.
The court reiterated the law can only be changed by parliament, not by judges.
Reacting to the decision, Paul Lamb (pictured) said that he was ‘absolutely gutted’, adding: ‘I was hoping for a humane and dignified end.’
Paul Lamb was left paralysed after a road accident and Tony Nicklinson suffered locked-in syndrome following a stroke.
Neither man was capable of taking his own life, but needed someone to help him die. However, as the law currently stands, anyone assisting them to die could be prosecuted.
The claimants argued that their article 8 rights to respect for private and family life were breached by the law as it now stands and sought the court’s assurance that it would be changed so that the person who helped them die would not be prosecuted.
In the event, Tony Nicklinson pre-empted the court’s decision by refusing nutrition, fluids and medical treatment. He died of pneumonia on 22 August 2012.
Dismissing their appeals, Lord Judge, in his last civil judgment before he retires as lord chief justice, said: ‘The short answer must be, and always has been, that the law relating to assisting suicide cannot be changed by judicial decision.
‘The repeated mantra that, if the law is to be changed, it must be changed by parliament, does not demonstrate judicial abnegation of our responsibilities, but rather highlights fundamental constitutional principles.’
He added that changes to the law regarding the ending of life are always decided by parliament, and instanced the abolition of the death penalty and rules around terminating a pregnancy.
He said: ‘For these purposes parliament represents the conscience of the nation. Judges, however eminent, do not: our responsibility is to discover the relevant legal principles, and apply the law as we find it.’
London firm Bindmans partner Saimo Chahal, who acted for the appellants, said: ‘My clients are considering grounds of appeal to the Supreme Court.
‘It is literally a life and death issue for Paul and there is no prospect of parliament adjudicating on the issue any time soon - so there is but one option open to Paul and that is to try and persuade the courts that his concerns are real and legitimate. It is wrong that a good death should be denied people in Paul’s situation.’