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|Stroke victim locked in his own body wants his wife to help him die... and NOT face prosecution|
By Lucy Ballinger: 20th July 2010
A man who suffers from near-complete paralysis has launched a landmark legal case to ensure his wife is not prosecuted for murder if she helps him to end his life.
Tony Nicklinson, 56, has 'locked-in syndrome' and has not been able to move anything apart from his head and eyes for the past five years following a severe stroke.
He now communicates by using a Perspex board and letters which he nods or blinks at to spell out words to wife Jane.
The father-of-two, who is washed, dressed and fed mashed-up food through a tube twice a day, said he is 'fed up' with his undignified life and does not want to 'dribble his way into old age'.
He is too ill to travel to the Swiss suicide clinic run by Dignitas and wants his 54-year-old wife to be able to help him commit suicide if he asks her to.
Under current laws Mrs Nicklinson would be prosecuted for murder and given a mandatory life sentence.
Describing his condition, Mr Nicklinson said: 'It left me paralysed below the neck and unable to speak. I need help in almost every aspect of my life.
'I cannot scratch if I itch. I cannot pick my nose if it is blocked and I can only eat if I am fed like a baby - only I won't grow out of it, unlike a baby.
'I have no privacy or dignity left. I am washed, dressed and put to bed by carers who are, after all, still strangers. I am fed-up with my life and don't want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.
'Am I grateful that the doctors saved my life? No, I am not. If I had my time again, and knew then what I know now, I would have not called the ambulance but let nature take its course.'
Yesterday, Mr Nicklinson's solicitor, Saimo Chahal, of Bindmans, issued proceedings in the High Court seeking a Judicial Review from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer.
His legal team wants guidance on whether it is always in the public interest to prosecute in cases of 'consensual killing'.
His lawyers will argue the law of murder constitutes a disproportionate interference with his right to personal autonomy under Article 8 (Right to private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
No clarification has been sought before on a case where the victim lacks the physical capacity to take even the final action of suicide.
Mr Nicklinson's legal bid comes days after it emerged Richard Rudd, who also suffers from locked-in syndrome, managed to communicate his desire to stay alive to his family by blinking.
They had taken the decision to switch off the 43-year-old's life support machine and were shocked to discover, unlike Mr Nicklinson, he wanted to stay alive.
The condition was brought to public awareness by the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.
Mr Nicklinson lives with his wife of 24 years and two daughters, Beth, 21, and Lauren, 22, at the family home in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
He was a quality-assurance manager for a Greek civil engineering company based in the United Arab Emirates and enjoyed a 'full and energetic life'.
But he suffered a major stroke while on a business trip in Athens five years ago as a result of an undiagnosed heart condition.
Although Mr Nicklinson can think, hear and feel, the brain damage he has suffered means he cannot speak or move his limbs. It has been described as the closest thing to being buried alive.
He has a cord around his neck which he uses to call for assistance, change TV channels and use the computer.
A carer stays with him overnight, helping him to move an arm or a leg and wiping away saliva.
He spends his days watching daytime TV and painstakingly writing a memoir on a specially adapted computer, but it is a slow and laborious task and he says it is not enough to make his life worthwhile. His wife has been left devastated by how the syndrome has effectively imprisoned her husband.
Mrs Nicklinson said: 'The fact that Tony is unable to speak is hideous. Rugby is his passion in life and he was always the life and soul of the party, so the fact that it is so difficult to communicate is extremely frustrating. He does not feel he has any quality of life and wants the right which everyone else has to decide when to end it.
'He will not ask me to help him, or anyone else to help him, if he thinks they will be prosecuted for murder.'
Mr Nicklinson's lawyers will argue he needs clarity on the implications for his wife before asking for her help.
And they will attempt to clarify the law to recognise the differences between genuine 'mercy killing' and murder.
Right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy wished Mr Nicklinson ' enormous luck' - and vowed to help him in any way she could.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: 'It would be impossible not to feel sympathy for Mr Nicklinson and his family, yet we also understand that his right to control over his death must be balanced with concerns about the impact of legalising assisted suicide on potentially vulnerable groups.'
A spokesman for Care not Killing said: 'If we remove or lessen the penalty for so-called 'mercy killing' we will leave vulnerable people without adequate legal protection and also contribute to a mindset that the lives of sick or disabled people are somehow less worth living.'