British courts give green light for assisted dying case

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lawyers acting for a stroke victim in Britain have been given approval by the High Court in London to prepare a case asking for judicial review of the guidance on prosecution for assisted suicide released in 2009 by Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The claimant seeking judicial review—known only as 'Martin'—is a man in his mid forties with locked-in syndrome and can only communicate by eye movements. He believes his life to be "undignified and intolerable", and he is completely dependent on his wife and full-time carers.

The court granted Martin's lawyers the right to gather information from third parties including Dignitas in order to prepare the case without risking prosecution. Lawyers acting on Martin's behalf also claim that this will allow doctors to advise Martin on assisted dying. Rosa Curling, a lawyer with the firm representing Martin, Leigh Day & Co, said: "We can instruct doctors to advise him on his options regarding his wish to die and also take steps to identify an individual who might be willing to assist him in taking his life." While relatives are unlikely to be prosecuted for assisting suicide under current guidelines, Martin has none willing to assist his.

Lord Justice Toulson, one of the two judges who heard the application, said that the case "raises thorny legal and ethical issues". The judicial review is brought on the basis that the DPP failed to consider patients in situations like that of the claimant in drafting the advice. Martin hopes that the case could lead to the DPP modifying the guidance on prosecution.