The ‘assisted dying’ case of terminally ill man Noel Conway has failed in the High Court for a second time. That Conway, who was not in court, may well have heard this unwelcome news while on a ventilator should give the justice secretary, defendant in the case, pause for thought.
The justice secretary’s counsel argued that assisted suicide ‘should be left for consideration by parliament alone in due course’. The role of the courts here was ‘institutionally inappropriate’. The High Court, for its part, insisted on its authority to decide cases where the issue of ‘incompatibility’ with human rights was concerned.
Parliament and the courts, from the perspective of people in Conway’s position, seem to stridently assert their right to decide this issue, then fail to determine it.
There is plenty for Conway to mind in last week’s judgment – the inability of doctors to predict the timing of his natural death with absolute certainty is among the reasons given for dismissing his claim. If allowed, his claim could create a ‘slippery slope leading to incremental expansion over time of the categories of people to whom similar assistance for suicide might have to be provided’.
But the main fault, as Neuberger made clear in Nicklinson, is with parliament, which prefers the long grass for this topic and uses the full weight of the state’s resources to kick it there. Terminally ill people who take the opposite view must crowd-fund their cases as their own health deteriorates, which has to be wrong.