BHA mourns Tony Nicklinson, campaigner for assisted dying

22 August, 2012

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its sadness at the death of Tony Nicklinson, who campaigned for a new approach to assisted dying. He was 58, and he died on Wednesday morning at home.

In 2005, while on a business trip to Athens, he suffered a catastrophic stroke which left him with locked-in syndrome. Before the stroke, Tony had been very fit and active, and was a keen rugby player and skydiver. But after the stroke, he was paralysed from the neck down and unable to speak. He could only communicate via blinking, and described his life as a ‘living nightmare’. However, despite the suffering which he endured, he became a passionate campaigner for a new approach on assisted dying.  Using a computer which tracked his eye movements, he set up a Twitter account, and was frequently interviewed by the media. 

Tony brought a legal case by which he tried to obtain the right to have a doctor end his life without fear of prosecution. Under current law, it is not permitted for a doctor to end the life of a patient who is suffering incurably, and who wants to end their life but is unable to do so independently. Any doctor who does intervene in this way could face prosecution for murder, which carries a sentence of life imprisonment.  Tony’s legal case to establish the right to have a doctor lawfully end his life went to the High Court last week, but he lost the case. Tony said that he was ‘devastated’ by the court’s decision, but he vowed to continue the fight and appeal against the decision.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented, ‘Tony Nicklinson’s campaign was inspirational and his fight for the right of mentally competent adults to choose to end their lives woth medical assistance was a fight that we at the BHA very much supported. We will continue to campaign for the legalisation of assisred suicide, as will many others – their determination renewed by his example.’