A 46 year old man who suffered a brain stem stroke three years ago, is almost completely paralysed and communicates by staring at letters on a computer screen which are then formed into words spoken by a digitised voice, is seeking a ruling that he be allowed to engage the assistance of professionals in order to end his life.
He has expressed a wish to die, but his wife is not prepared to assist in bringing about his death. He is seeking to argue that he should either have the help of a paid professional to assist him to end his life by helping him to travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, or that he should be given the services of a palliative care doctor in the UK therefore obviating the need for him and others to travel abroad.
Currently, assisted suicide is illegal in the UK, although following the Debbie Purdy case a couple of years ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued guidance setting out the circumstances in which criminal proceedings will be considered against those who have assisted patients wishing to travel abroad to commit suicide. Whilst the guidance makes it very unlikely that a close relative acting with the right motive will be prosecuted under the guidance, those acting in a professional capacity are more likely to be prosecuted.
As a result of this concern, the solicitors acting for the patient, known only as Martin, are seeking an interim declaration that the doctors and lawyers involved in preparing the case will not be prosecuted or disciplined for preparing and participating in proceedings. Although many doctors and lawyers have previously worked on right to die cases neither the DPP, the Solicitors Regulation Authority nor the General Medical Council have been prepared to give safe harbour assurances that preparing the case was legally and professionally acceptable.
If the interim declaration is granted, the next step will be to seek a court ruling on the main issues about whether Martin should be able to obtain help to assist him to end his own life.