Case BriefsForeign Courts

UK Court of Appeal (Civil Division): A Three-Judge Bench comprising of Sir Terence Etherton, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice King, JJ. dismissed a challenge to the prohibition on ‘assisted suicide’ legislated under Section 2(1) of Suicide Act 1961, as violating Section 4 of Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights.

Noel Conway, a 68 years old terminally ill patient suffering from motor neuron disease, who had a prognosis of six months or less to live, wished to have an option of taking an action to end his life peacefully and with dignity, accomplished through medical assistance. However, such course of action was prohibited by Section 2(1) of Suicide Act 1961. Noel challenged the section before the High Court submitting that it is a disproportionate interference with his ‘right to respect for private life’ under Article 8 of ECHR.  His challenge was dismissed by the Divisional Bench and hence, he was in the Court of Appeals.

The Court, even after giving a sympathetic consideration to the issue, did not feel satisfied to grant Noel’s prayer. The Court framed the question as to whether the blanket ban on assisted suicide was necessary. It was noted that the decision raised the issue of balance between the concept of the sanctity of life and right to personal autonomy. The Court observed that there was no common law right to assisted suicide; the issue was the possible legalisation of conduct which was criminal at common law and was now criminal as a matter of statute. The Court held that the Parliament was a far better body for determining the difficult policy issue in relation to assisted suicide. Finally, the Court noted the observation of the Divisional Bench that the prohibition on assisted suicide as contained in Section 2 of Suicide Act achieves a fair balance between the interests of wider community and the people in the position such as Noel Conway. Basing its decision on the idea that sanctity of life was as important as the right to personal autonomy, the Court upheld the decision of the Divisional Court and dismissed the appeal. [R. (Conway) v. Secretary of State for Justice, [2018] 3 WLR 925, decided on 27-06-2018]