Right-to-die fight at Supreme Court

Banbury Cake: Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb arrive for the right-to-die hearing, at the UK Supreme Court. Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb arrive for the right-to-die hearing, at the UK Supreme Court.

The widow of a man who had locked-in syndrome and a paralysed former builder are staging a right-to-die fight in the UK's highest court.

Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb want the Supreme Court to rule that disabled people should have the right to be helped to die with dignity.

Nine Supreme Court justices today began analysing the issue at a hearing in London due to last four days.

They are expected to announce a ruling next year.

A Supreme Court spokesman said justices were being asked to decide whether a prohibition on assisted suicide - outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act - was compatible with the right to respect for private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb argue that the law should include a "defence of necessity". They say doctors should be allowed to assist suicide when people have a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" wish to end their life, but cannot do so without medical assistance.

Paul Bowen QC, for Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb, told the court that the current position had "extraordinary and cruel consequences" for some disabled people.

Mr Bowen said it meant they were unable to end their "unbearable suffering" with dignity, leaving them with the option of a "less dignified" death which might put others at risk of prosecution.

Mrs Nicklinson, 58, of Melksham, Wiltshire, told reporters that she was "hopeful" of success and said she and fellow campaigners had done all they could.

Her husband Tony - who started the legal fight - died aged 58 in August 2012.

Mr Lamb, 58, of Bramley, Leeds, was left paralysed after a 1990 road accident.

"A change in the law would mean more to me than a million dollars," he said. "You would not do this with pets. Pets have got the law in their favour."

Justices are also analysing guidance given by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

That issue has been raised by a 49-year-old disabled man who has been identified only as "Martin".

He argues that a "policy statement" in which the DPP sets out "public interest factors to be considered in the exercise of discretion to prosecute" is an unlawful interference with the right to respect for private and family life.

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