I was going to entitle this "A sad news story", but I can't honestly do that, although I'm sure that the protagonists, Tony Nicklinson and "Martin", would bitterly disagree. In fact their view would be that they've been the victims of an egregious miscarriage of justice - as today the High Court ruled against their application to allow a professional to end their lives of Locked-in Syndrome. As readers of this blog will be aware, Jane and I spent a morning with Tony and his wife, Jane, in their home last June for a BBC programme. As I don't know "Martin", I'll just talk about Tony's case.
What's good about this story? you might ask. Primarily, it's good that a precedent to legalise killing has been resisted. Dress it up how you will, in whatever humanitarian, compassionate terms, deliberately to end life is killing. The three judges, who said the court had been “deeply moved” by both men’s circumstances, ruled that such matters were for Parliament to decide. Since English law is case-law, one ruling in favour of assisted suicide would open the door for others - with all the adverse implications for the disabled, senile and terminally ill that could usher in, as I've rehearsed elsewhere. For three appointed judges to change the law so radically, making deliberate killing legitimate on occasions, is patently ultra vires, beyond their powers.
I was sorry to read in The Independent, briefed, no doubt, by Tony's solicitors, that his "physical condition has deteriorated in recent weeks leaving him in constant pain and discomfort", which was a reason for seeking an expedited appeal. When I met him last year, he told me that I was better off than him in that I had a degenerative condition and he didn't. I was, and am, certainly able to do more than he is, but such comparisons are odious, and otiose. At some point in today's reporting of the case a forecast of 25 years of further locked-in state was cited. It seems that might not be the case.
I pointed out to Tony last year that he was legally entitled to refuse treatment. If, for example, he contracted an infection, he could refuse antibiotics and ask just to be kept comfortable with painkillers and sedation. Presumably, Bindmans, his expensive London solicitors, will have advised him about living wills and have the know-how to produce one in his situation. He's not actually condemned to live. And so, on the Channel 4 News, when his wife had just been told that an anonymous "benefactor" had offered to pay for him to travel to Dignitas to end it all, she havered and hesitated and concluded that he'd probably not want to accept because he didn't see why he should travel to an industrial estate in Switzerland. He'd rather fight for the right to be killed here. I think that's very much the point; Tony's personal crusade to control his own death has become his reason for living. And that seems to me very sad. It's such a depressing and life-denying purpose. Although he says he wants to die, he doesn't. He wants to live to assert the ultimate statement of control, suicide. Maybe for it to be in the public eye is just the intention of his advisers.
When I talked to him I asked Tony whether there was nothing good about his life. He understandably said, "No." "Not even the love of your wife and your daughters?" I think his reply was, "That's beside the point. It's a matter of equality." Well, in my view, love trumps equality, and to be loved, no matter what the cost, makes life worth living, no matter what the limitations. Even the prisoner locked in windowless solitary confinement survives on the knowledge he is loved; indeed that alone gives his life value. Not to enjoy that makes for bitterness and despair. I listened to Tony's sobs while Jane talked to reporters, and thought, "How tragic to pin such hope on such an outcome and to miss the blessing of knowing the Ultimate in love!"