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Man (67) with motor neurone disease aims for judicial review on assisted dying

Noel Conway (67) from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, said he wants to have the option of an assisted death when he is in the final six months of his life - a time when he is expected to be incapacitated as a result of his motor neurone disease (MND). Picture by Peter Byrne, Press Association
Ryan Hooper, Press Association

A TERMINALLY ill former lecturer with months to live hopes to bring a judicial review in the hope of changing the law on assisted dying.

Noel Conway (67) from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, said he wants to have the option of an assisted death when he is in the final six months of his life - a time when he is expected to be incapacitated as a result of his motor neurone disease (MND).

Under the Suicide Act 1961, anyone helping or encouraging someone to take their own life can be prosecuted and jailed for up to 14 years if found guilty of an offence.

Jane Nicklinson, the widow of right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson, has been among the high profile campaigners also fighting to legalise assisted dying in the UK. Their case was defeated in the European Court of Human Rights in 2015.

Mr Conway said he has launched the legal challenge because he wants to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death.

Mr Conway, who has a son, daughter and stepson, said: "I have motor neurone disease. It is incurable and terminal. It is a muscle wasting disease and I am now heading for its final stages when I face not being able to move at all.

"This prospect is terrifying and the amount of suffering unimaginable. Current law means that I will have no control of how my life ends and I will have to endure this nightmare for as long as it takes.

"As someone who has always been in control of his life and taking responsibility for himself, I find this quite unacceptable. I want to change the law to allow assisted dying so that I can be in control of my own death."

In 2015 MPs including former prime minister David Cameron rejected a Bill to legalise assisted dying, but a second Bill was raised in the House of Lords in June.

Opposition to changing the law has come from faith groups, campaigners who say disabled people may feel pressured to end their lives and those who fear assisted dying would become a business.

Mr Conway, who was diagnosed two years ago, said he used to enjoy several outdoor pursuits before his illness. His deteriorating condition means his ability to move, dress, eat and deal with personal care independently has diminished considerably.

He said: "If I let nature take its course, I could effectively become entombed in my own body as my ability to move and communicate continues to diminish, or I may die by suffocation or choking.

"I could bring about my death by refusing my ventilator, but then there is the unbearable uncertainty of not knowing how long it would take and no guarantee that my distress and pain could be adequately managed.

"I have considered travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland to have an assisted death but this is expensive and requires a lengthy journey which in my current condition I may not be able to make anyway. I do not wish to die in a faceless clinic, away from my home and without my loved ones around me.

"Having the option of an assisted death would bring me great comfort in my final months - it would empower me to live my life as I choose and to end it with dignity. I believe it is my fundamental human right - one I am willing to fight in the courts to secure."

Mr Conway, supported by Dignity in Dying, has instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to seek permission for a judicial review on the grounds that the current laws contained in the Suicide Act 1961 are incompatible with his basic rights - to be able to die with dignity.

Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, said: "Noel wants the law changed so that it respects an individual's choice about dying with dignity.

"This situation is clearly traumatic for the individuals involved and their families, who are often torn between not wanting to see their loved one suffer and also not wanting to lose them, and we commend Noel for his bravery in bringing this important legal case."

If permission is given the full hearing in the High Court is likely to take place in early 2017.

Lord Low of Dalston, who is blind, said that the majority of disabled people favoured a change in the law to permit assisted dying.

The crossbench peer told the Press Association: "80% of disabled people support this right, very much in line with the rest of the population.

"Fears are expressed that if the law is changed to permit this, people will be forced to end their lives when they do not want to die - but such fears are baseless.

"All people like Noel Conway want is for the law to allow them to end unbearable suffering.

"No one would be compelled to make use of the law if they did not wish to."

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