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Terminally ill man wins right to fight assisted dying law

Top judges have ruled that a man who is terminally ill with motor neurone disease can continue his "fight for choice at the end of life".

Retired college lecturer Noel Conway went to the Court of Appeal after he was refused permission to bring a judicial review over the law on assisted dying.

Mr Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with the disease in November 2014 and is not expected to live beyond 12 months.

His lawyers say that when he has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, "he would wish to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a peaceful and dignified death".

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.

On Wednesday in London, Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Beatson sent the case back to the High Court to determine.

Mr Conway, who is supported by Dignity in Dying, said: "I am delighted that my case will now proceed to the next stage.

"Clearly the Court of Appeal has agreed that this is an issue deserving full and proper consideration and I look forward to a full hearing at the High Court.

"Having overcome this initial setback in my fight for choice at the end of life, I am more determined than ever to continue.

"I have the support of my loved ones and many thousands of others behind me; people who have donated over £90,000 towards my legal costs and sent heart-warming messages of encouragement to me and my family.

"I have lived my whole life on my own terms, in control of the choices and decisions I make.

"Why then, when I am facing my final months, should these rights be stripped away from me, leaving me at the mercy of a cruel illness?

"I know I am going to die anyway, but how and when should be up to me.

"To have the option of an assisted death available in this country would provide me and countless others with great reassurance and comfort.

"It would allow me to decide when I am ready to go, rather than be forced into a premature death by travelling to Dignitas at great emotional and financial cost, or to suffer a traumatic, drawn out death at home."

The case follows that brought by Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from paralysis after a stroke.

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

The Nicklinson case was ultimately dismissed in 2014 by the Supreme Court, which said it was important that Parliament debated the issues before any decision was made by the courts.

After debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Parliament decided, at least for the moment, not to provide for legislative exceptions to the 1961 Act.

The appeal judges said: "We consider that, in the context of considering permission for judicial review, the fact that since Nicklinson Parliament has made a decision not to change the law and the matter is no longer under active consideration means that Mr Conway should be entitled to argue that it is no longer institutionally inappropriate for the court to consider whether to make a declaration of incompatibility, whilst giving due weight to Parliament's recent decision."

A spokesman for the Care Not Killing Alliance said: "We are naturally disappointed that this case continues to drag on. If successful, it will usurp the democratic will of Parliament.

"Only a year-and-a-half ago, MPs looked very carefully at this complex issue and comprehensively rejected changing the law by 330 votes to 118.

"Changing 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, who have looked at this issue in detail and concluded that there is no safe system of assisted suicide and euthanasia anywhere in the world.

"Laws in Holland and Belgium that were only meant to apply to mentally competent terminally ill adults have been extended to include the elderly, disabled, those with mental health problems and even non-mentally competent children.

"While in Oregon, the model often trumpeted by those wanting to change the law, there are examples of cancer patients being denied lifesaving and life-extending drugs, yet offered the lethal cocktail of barbiturates to kill themselves.

"The current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia are simple and clear.

"They exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives.

"It protects those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion. It acts as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers and does not need changing."

The British Humanist Association (BHA) congratulated Mr Conway on his victory.

It said it was also supporting a legal case from its member Omid - whose surname has not been released - who is seeking a broader declaration of incompatibility.

Omid, 54, who s uffers from the incurable and life-limiting condition multiple system atrophy, wants incurably suffering individuals who are not terminally ill to also have the right to die.

BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said: 'We are happy that Noel's bravery and determination has paid off and now he will finally have his day in court.

"It is an injustice that people in Britain who suffer from conditions like Noel's or Omid's do not have a say over how and when their lives should end.

"We continue to advocate for a humane assisted dying law across the UK which would allow anyone of sound mind with a terminal or incurable illness the option of an assisted death on their own terms."

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