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Terminally ill man begins High Court challenge over assisted dying law

A man with terminal motor neurone disease has gone to the High Court to challenge the law on assisted dying.

On Tuesday, lawyers for retired college lecturer Noel Conway, who was diagnosed in November 2014 and is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months, said that his case was "intensely personal and of the utmost importance" to him.

Mr Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, attended court in a wheelchair and on a ventilator to hear his case put to three judges.

He wants permission to bring a judicial review which could result in terminally ill adults who meet strict criteria making their own decisions about ending their lives.

Richard Gordon QC said: "Mr Conway wishes to die in the country in which he was born and has lived for his whole adult life.

"The choices facing him therefore are stark: to seek to bring about his own death now whilst he is physically able to do but before he is ready; or await death with no control over when and how it comes."

Counsel said that Mr Conway contended that these choices, forced upon him by the provisions of the criminal law, violated his human rights.

He wants a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

Mr Gordon said that the attempt by the Secretary of State for Justice to deal a "knock-out blow" to the case at this stage was "misconceived".

If the judges rule that Mr Conway has an arguable case, they will be asked to direct that it is heard as quickly as possible.

Lord Justice Burnett, sitting in London with Mr Justice Charles and Mr Justice Jay, said at the start of the hearing, which is due to last half a day, that they were minded to reserve their decision "only for a relatively short time".

Before his illness, Mr Conway, who is married, with a son, daughter, stepson and grandchild, was fit and active, enjoying hiking, cycling and travelling.

His condition means that whilst he retains full mental capacity, his ability to move, dress, eat and deal with personal care independently has diminished considerably.

Mr Gordon said: "There will come a point when he is diagnosed as having less than six months to live.

"At that point, and whilst he retains the mental capacity to make this decision, he would wish to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a peaceful and dignified death whilst remaining in control of the final act(s) that may be required."

At present there is a blanket prohibition on providing a person with assistance to die.

Mr Conway has said: "I feel very strongly that it is a dying person's right to determine how they die and when they die. The current law denies me this right.

"Instead, I am being condemned to unbearable suffering in my final months. I may die by suffocation or choking, or I could become completely unable to move or communicate.

"The only way for me to have some control is to refuse use of my ventilator, but there is no telling how long it would take for me to die, or whether my suffering could be managed.

"I am not prepared to spend the thousands of pounds needed for an assisted death abroad, nor do I want to travel far from home, away from all my loved ones - in any case I may no longer be well enough to travel.

"I'm going to die anyway. It's a question of whether I die with or without suffering and on my own terms or not.

"I'm bringing this case not just for me, but for all others facing terminal illness who want and deserve to have the option of a safe, dignified assisted death available to them in the UK."

A case brought by Tony Nicklinson - who suffered from paralysis after a stroke - was ultimately dismissed in 2014 by the Supreme Court, which stated it was important that Parliament debated the issues before any decision was made by the courts.

Mr Conway's case is different in that he has a terminal illness and his legal team are setting out a strict criteria and clear potential safeguards to protect vulnerable people from any abuse of the system.

The judges reserved their decision, which they said would be given as quickly as possible given the circumstances of the case.

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