I write this with great sadness. On Wednesday Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome, died having refused food for six days – after the High Court denied him the right to die. In March, I wrote a post detailing why I thought he should have been granted this basic right. I still stand by these arguments.
So when the verdict came in that Tony Nicklinson would not be able to die with the help of a doctor, I was angry. But now I can’t help but wonder if the judges regret their decision. Did they fully understand the consequences of their legalistic approach – to push a man to end his own life earlier than he may have done otherwise? And did they really have any idea what this man’s life was like?
Answer: probably not.
Surely we live in a society where compassion allows some types of cases to be held without setting a precedent? This may have annulled one of the judges’ main worries – that other severely disabled people would become more vulnerable if they allowed Mr Nicklinson to die. It seems that pragmatism was once again ignored, which is more than just a shame.
Nothing can be done now to change the outcome in Mr Nicklinson’s case. It is too late. But my family, and others who knew him, can take comfort from the public reaction to what happened. A vast majority saw the obvious and supported Tony’s campaign. Our hope now is that public pressure will force Parliament to do something.
Change is very clearly needed. Medical advances mean that more people are going to survive serious brain injuries. Obviously, this is good news – no one is arguing for medical progress to be halted. But the reaction of the doctor who saved Tony’s life is telling: he almost wishes he hadn’t. What good is saving a life if it is going to be full of such severe emotional pain? But we can’t have doctors asking themselves if they should save someone – that would clearly just be wrong. Doctors need to know that the law will allow patients to decide for themselves. To leave the law how it is would underestimate so many things that it would just be ludicrous.
Whether the politicians have the will to tackle such an emotive and controversial issue is yet to be seen. Pressure may still have to be applied. As a society, we should let Tony’s family rest and grieve, and so take up the fight in their name.