Criminal Law, Government & Legislation, Oddstuff

When life is no longer worth living

Those of you who follow the German news probably still recall the case of the young German who in late 2010 suffered irreparable spinal injuries when a stunt he devised went terribly wrong on Germany’s biggest TV show ‘Wetten dass’  (“The bet is on”).  He is now paralysed from the neck down at the age of 23. Despite his life being destroyed, he has picked himself and recently gave an interview on German TV talking about his life and plans for the future.  He admitted going through a dark phase where he wanted to end it all. But, he said, because he can’t use his hands, the “Smith&Wesson solution” was unfortunately out, so he decided to embrace his fate and make the most of the life he has left.

I thought of his story when I read a judgment from the High Court of Justice in England the other day. There, the claimant, also paralyzed from the neck down, sought declarations from the Court that it would not be unlawful for a doctor to terminate his life and that the criminalization of voluntary active euthanasia and assisted suicide is incompatible with his human right to respect a private life. He basically asked the court to determine whether, if his doctor would end his life, he would be convicted.

The court held that although it is preferable for parliament to decide on such issues, a law court may decide on a case-by-case basis. It also held that the common law position lacked logic as the claimant could lawfully end his life, but an assistant cannot (a situation similar to that in NZ and Australia) and that he therefore had an arguable case.

Like abortion, the question how a society should deal with active euthanasia can probably never be resolved in a universally accepted fashion. But for those who are trapped in a body which has no chance of ever functioning properly again anymore, the courts seem to take a more understanding approach if someone helps them taking the final step.

United Kingdom Tony Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice [2012] EWHC 304 (QB), 19 March 2012