Terminally-ill man begins appeal against ban on assisted dying

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A terminally ill man is to begin an Appeal Court challenge against a “blanket ban” on assisted dying.

Motor neurone disease sufferer Noel Conway, who says he feels “entombed” by his illness, is fighting a legal battle for the right to a “peaceful and dignified” death.

The 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury wants to be able to enlist help from medical professionals to bring about his death – which the law currently prevents – when he has less than six months left to live and still has mental capacity to make the decision.

He previously asked the High Court for a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

His case was rejected in October last year, but a full appeal against that ruling will begin on Tuesday.

Mr Conway is too unwell to travel to London for the hearing but will watch proceedings over a video link from Telford Crown Court.

In a statement ahead of the hearing, he said he is now dependent on a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and only has movement in his right hand, head and neck.

He said: “I know this decline will continue until my inevitable death.

“This I have sadly come to terms with, but what I cannot accept is that the law in my home country denies me the right to die on my own terms.

“Why can I not be given the chance to say goodbye to my loved ones and go with dignity, in my own home, when the time is right for me?

“I’ve been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes I’ve had from members of the public, others nearing the end of their lives and people who have seen just how much damage our broken law can do.

“For all of these people, I will keep on fighting.”

Terminally-ill Noel Conway, 68, arriving at Telford County Court with supporters to view a video link of his High Court case on assisted dying (PA/Aaron Chown)
Terminally-ill Noel Conway, 68, arriving at Telford County Court with supporters to view a video link of his High Court case on assisted dying (PA/Aaron Chown)

He is being represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell and supported by campaign group Dignity in Dying.

His appeal will be opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.

Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, said: “The blanket ban on assisted suicide is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Granting permission for the appeal hearing in January, Sir Ernest Ryder said there was a “serious question” as to whether the High Court gave enough consideration to the evidence before it.

He said there was also an issue as to how it resolved “serious disagreements” between experts.

The judge added that it was important to distinguish Mr Conway’s case, which is concerned with assisted suicide, from euthanasia.

The appeal, which will be heard by Sir Terence Etherton, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice King, is expected to last three days.

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