Right-to-die campaigners are planning to appeal after a father of two suffering from motor neurone disease was denied a full hearing of his application for help to end his life.
The high court ruled on Tuesday that it will not consider further evidence presented on behalf of Phil Newby, 49, from Rutland, who is terminally ill, cannot walk or use his lower arms.
The decision by Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice May is the latest setback for campaigners who are trying to persuade judges to declare that the ban on assisted suicide breaches patients’ human rights.
Explaining their decision, the judges said: “In the context of repeated and recent parliamentary debate, where there is an absence of significant change in societal attitude expressed through parliament, and where the courts lack legitimacy and expertise on moral – as opposed to legal – questions, in our judgment the courts are not the venue for arguments that have failed to convince parliament.
“Even if there was very widespread examination of evidence in these proceedings, the court process is in our view unlikely to provide reliable answers so as to determine this issue. Considerations of morality, upon which the issue turns, are simply not reducible to statistical analysis or any hard-edged, measurable or quantitative conclusions.”
Newby, who has two teenage daughters, said: “The high court’s decision not to hear my case, and not to test the evidence for and against assisted dying, is disappointing to me and the many hundreds of others who support my case. With their support, I will be fighting on to bring attention to a law that is widely thought to be cruel, so that it can be replaced by something more humane and compassionate.”
His solicitor, Saimo Chahal QC at the London law firm Bindmans, said: “It is important that the highest court should have an opportunity to consider issues which it is accepted are of transcendental importance to Phil and many others in his situation. An appeal will shortly be lodged in the court of appeal as the prospect of parliament considering the issues is non-existent”.
Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “If Phil lived in Melbourne or Los Angeles, he could have the choice of an assisted death and he should be able to have that same choice here … The vast majority of terminally ill Brits agree that there should be a change in the law in this country to allow assisted dying as an option alongside palliative care.
“The current blanket ban on assisted dying simply does not work. It denies dying people meaningful choice over their death, criminalises loved ones for acts of compassion and fails to protect vulnerable people.”