This week a British court ruled that stroke victim Tony Nicklinson, 58, may proceed to a full hearing where medical testimony can be heard regarding his desire to seek a physician assisted suicide. Euthanasia is currently not legal in the UK, and a representative for the Ministry of Justice said that a court ruling to the contrary, that physician assisted suicide is legally available, "is not, and cannot be, the law of England and Wales unless Parliament were to say otherwise."
As a result of his stroke, Mr. Nicklinson suffers from locked-in syndrome, a condition in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body, except for the eyes (and in some cases even including the eyes). Nicklinson can only blink and nod his head in order to choose letters from his special electronic screen in order to communicate.
Nicklinson's legal action was launched in order to seek court declarations that a doctor can affirmatively intervene to end his "indignity," and be provided with the "common law defense of necessity" against any potential murder charge.
In describing his suffering, Nicklinson said of his condition that his stroke has, “left me paralyzed 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 the baby.”
“I have no privacy or dignity left, I have locked-in syndrome, and I can expect no cure or improvement in my condition as my muscles and joints seize up through lack of use. Indeed, I can expect to dribble my way into old age.”
Legal euthanasia allows a patient to seek physician assisted suicide without the doctor later facing criminal charges. While legal in a few states, euthanasia is generally illegal in the United States. In fact, while confirming the right to palliative care and the right to refuse medical treatment, the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly stated that citizens have no constitutionally protected "right to die" in terms of a third party committing an affirmative action, or even withdrawing life support without meeting a certain threshold of proof. (See for example Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health)
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