A UK High Court justice decided Monday to let a right to die case proceed, the first to be allowed in British court. Justice William Charles ruled [judgment, PDF] that a case brought by Tony Nicklinson, age 57, could proceed to hearing. Nicklinson is the victim of a paralyzing stroke and challenges the UK's definition of murder, seeking medical assistance in committing suicide. Nicklinson argues that British law hinders his rights [AP press release] to private and family life as established in the European Convention of Human Rights [text] for his decision is one of personal autonomy and dignity. The Ministry of Justice [official website] argued that granting Nicklinson's request would change the law on murder and that was the job of the Parliament [official website].
The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue around the world. The only European countries that allow euthanasia are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In 2011, an India high court ruled passive euthanasia was permitted [JURIST report] under certain circumstances, but rejected a petition for a mercy killing. In 2010, a German court ruled that removing a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [JURIST report] if the patient had previously given consent. In 2009, the Italian president refused to sign an Italian government decree [JURIST report] that would stop the euthanasia of comatose women because it would violate the separation of power overturning a previous court ruling. In 2006, a proposed bill that would legalize the option of assisted suicide in the UK was set aside by the House of Lords following opposition from the public and two physician groups [JURIST reports]. Also in 2006, the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], the only American state law that allows physician assisted suicide.