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UK court allows right to die case to proceed

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.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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