A terminally ill man who is challenging the law on assisted suicide has asked judges to acknowledge his “basic right to die” and to envisage themselves in his position.
Noel Conway, 68, was speaking before his case is heard at the Court of Appeal. He has motor neurone disease (MND), an incurable, progressive, muscle-wasting condition.
Diagnosed in 2014, he is in a wheelchair and has almost no movement below his neck.
He wants a doctor to be allowed to prescribe him a lethal dose of drugs when he feels life has become unbearable.
Mr Conway spoke to me at his home in Shropshire, where he lives with his wife Carol.
His health has deteriorated since he launched his court action early last year.
He now depends on a ventilator round the clock – except when eating and washing – because the muscles, which enable him to breathe, are wasting away.
He is able to make only slight movements with the back of his right hand, which he uses to operate a carer alarm.
Mr Conway told me: “The greatest fear I have is still being alive but not able to use my body.
“I want to end my life with dignity, cleanly and in full consciousness; I don’t want to linger on for weeks.”
He told me he is registered with Dignitas, the Swiss group which offers assisted suicide, but says travelling there would be difficult and he would need help, so does not regard this as viable.
Mr Conway said his main option, when the time comes, would be to ask for his ventilator to be switched off.
Evidence given in the High Court from Mr Conway’s palliative care consultant said medication could be given at this time that prevents patients from becoming uncomfortable or distressed during the process of dying.
But Mr Conway said he did not want to be given drugs that left him “dosed up” in a semi-conscious state.
Under the 1961 Suicide Act, anyone who assisted Mr Conway to die would be liable to up to 14 years in prison.
Mr Conway’s legal team say this violates his right to respect for his private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
In a hearing in July 2017 they sought a judicial review of the current law, and a declaration of incompatibility with his rights under the ECHR.
Lawyers for Mr Conway proposed that assisted dying should be available to people aged 18 and above, who were of sound mind, with fewer than six months to live, and that each application should be reviewed by a High Court judge.
In October 2017, the High Court rejected Mr Conway’s application.
The judges agreed with government lawyers that the current legislation was necessary to protect the weak and vulnerable.
In 2015, MPs voted overwhelmingly against changing the law to allow assisted dying in England and Wales.
The High Court judges said that as the “conscience of the nation”, Parliament was entitled to maintain a “clear bright-line rule” forbidding assisted suicide.
In January 2018, the Court of Appeal gave leave to Mr Conway to challenge the High Court decision.
Mr Conway is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, whose chief executive Sarah Wootton said: “Over 65 million people around the world are now covered by assisted dying laws.
“Our elected representatives in the UK, however, continue to lag shamefully behind on this important issue and a dying man is giving up his final months to fight for the right to die on his own terms.”
Two groups which oppose assisted dying – Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK – will be represented in court.
Dr Peter Saunders, from Care Not Killing, said: “The blanket ban on assisted suicide is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
“I hope that the judges will once again dismiss this attempt to circumvent Parliament by refusing to change a law that has been debated and rejected on numerous occasions both at Westminster and Holyrood.”