London’s High Court rejects Conway legal challenge to suicide law

The judges ruled the law was necessary to protect the vulnerable and respect the sanctity of life.

By The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children–SPUC

Mr Conway outside the Court.  Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive

Mr Conway outside the Court.
Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive

The High Court has rejected a legal challenge to the suicide law brought by motor-neurone sufferer Noel Conway.

Mr. Conway’s lawyers, backed by Dignity in Dying and Humanists UK, had argued that a blanket ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia, as stated in section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act, is a breach of Mr. Conway’s human rights.

Necessary protection

However, the judges in the High Court [Lord Justice Sales, Mrs. Justice Whipple and Mr. Justice Garnham]rejected this, concluding that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Right to respect for private life), which he appealed to, is not unlimited. It is a qualified right and did not extend to compelling the State and doctors to provide the lethal cocktail of barbiturates for Mr. Conway and other terminally ill people to kill themselves.

They ruled that “Parliament is entitled to regard [section 2 of the suicide act] as necessary as a protection for the weak and vulnerable. It is also entitled to regard it as a measure which gives proper respect to the sanctity of life.”

Best care for dying and disabled

The Care Not Killing Alliance, which intervened in the case, welcomed the ruling. Campaign Director Dr Peter Saunders said:

“The safest law is the one we currently have, which gives a blanket prohibition on all assisted suicide and euthanasia. This deters exploitation and abuse through the penalties that it holds in reserve, but at the same time gives some discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases.

“We welcome the decision by the High Court to completely reject this attempt to change the law and hope that as a society we can now turn our attention to the important issue of ensuring the highest level of palliative and social care for disabled people, the terminally ill and how we fund that.”

Dr. Saunders also mentioned, “a change in the law is opposed by every major disability rights organisation and doctors’ group, including the BMA, Royal College of GPs and the Association for Palliative Medicine.” Not Dead Yet, a campaigning network of disabled people founded in 2006 to oppose attempts to legalise assisted suicide for disabled and terminally ill people, also welcomed Wednesday’s ruling.