By Alex Schadenberg,
International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The Court of Appeals in Britain released its decision today in the Nicklinson/Lamb euthanasia case by upholding the decision of the lower court by rejecting the argument that an exception to homicide can be created to allow euthanasia based on a defense of necessity. The Court of Appeal also upheld that only parliament can change laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Mr Lamb was seeking a court declaration that any doctor who helped him to die would have a defence against a charge of murder. The defence is known as "necessity", meaning it was necessary for the doctor to act to stop his suffering.
There has been confusion concerning the Nicklinson/Lamb case which was asking the court to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. To legalize euthanasia, the court would have had to create an exception to the homicide (murder) Act in the UK.
A third plaintiff in the case, known only as Martin, appears to have won his intervention by being granted the right to have greater clarification in the prosecution guidelines with respect to assisted suicide.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions stated that he would appeal the Martin decision to the Supreme Court.
Lord Judge, as Lord Chief Justice, said:
"the law relating to assisting suicide cannot be changed by judicial decision".
"whatever the personal views of any individual judge on these delicate and sensitive subjects - and I suspect that the personal views of individual judges would be as contradictory as those held by any other group of people - the constitutional imperative is that, however subtle and impressive the arguments to the contrary may be, we cannot effect the changes or disapply the present statutory provisions, not because we are abdicating our responsibility, but precisely because we are fulfilling our proper constitutional role".
Dr Andrew Fergusson of the Care Not Killing Alliance in the UK, a group that intervened in the case, stated:
The judgment comprehensively and completely dismissed these appeals, which sought to alter legislation covering murder.
"All three judges strongly rejected the notion that 'necessity' should be a defence in euthanasia cases, saying this was not compatible with English Law. Further, the blanket prohibition on assisted suicide in the UK is not contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights."
"The judges, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Elias, recognised that changing the laws on murder and suicide are matters for Parliament alone. They acknowledged that these issues had been debated by Parliament frequently in recent years."
"And they confirmed the simple truth that the current law exists to protect the vulnerable and those without a voice: disabled people, terminally ill people and elderly people, who might otherwise feel pressured into ending their lives."
|Dr Andrew Fergusson|
Dr Fergusson continued:
"Two of the three judges concluded that the DPP should issue some very minor clarification to the prosecution guidelines covering assisted suicide for 'class two cases' requiring the involvement of a health professional. We were persuaded by the dissenting opinion from the UK's most senior judge that change was unnecessary and unhelpful, but, importantly, this clarification does not change the current law."
"These latest court cases, along with previous cases and the numerous debates in Parliament confirm that there is a limit to choice in a democratic and tolerant society. The judges acknowledged these are three tragic cases but agreed with our view that it is not acceptable to expect the state to sanction and condone murder."
"I hope this latest decision will now draw a line once and for all under the legal debate and allow politicians, society as a whole, and health professionals to focus attention on how we care for the terminally ill, disabled and elderly."
"Why is it that when a able-bodied person wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it and offer them support, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible?"The Court of Appeals decision in the UK is a good decision.
It upheld the rule of law and it maintains the protections in law for every citizen in the UK, especially people who live with disabilities, chronic conditions, depression or mental illness.
- Care Not Killing Alliance welcomes Court of Appeal rulings.
- UK court rejects euthanasia cases, court gets it right.