Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

British Man's Death Adds Fuel to Fire in Assisted Suicide Debate

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

British Man's Death Adds Fuel to Fire in Assisted Suicide Debate

Article excerpt

LONDON -- A 58-year-old British man suffering from so-called locked-in syndrome died Wednesday, six days after the nation's High Court rejected his request for help in ending his life.

His death is certain to galvanize already-contentious debate about assisted suicide in Britain.

Tony Nicklinson, a former rugby player and sky diver who suffered a stroke in 2005, died at his home in Melksham, 80 miles west of London, according to a statement issued by the law firm that represented him. Mr. Nicklinson's family used his Twitter account to say he died of natural causes. The BBC and The Daily Mail reported that he had refused food since the ruling.

After suffering his stroke while on a business trip to Athens, Greece, Mr. Nicklinson, a civil engineer, developed locked-in syndrome, an incurable condition in which a patient loses all motor functions but remains awake and aware, with all cognitive abilities. He had spent the past seven years paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak, feed himself or even clean his own teeth -- communicating through a system that allowed him to write messages on a computer screen by blinking his eyes.

He had argued in court that he would be physically unable to administer a lethal drug to himself, and that his only path to release from his "living nightmare" would be permission from the court to have somebody else -- in his suggestion, a doctor -- administer the necessary dose without fear of prosecution. Under British law, anybody, including a doctor, who knowingly helps a terminally ill person to die faces possible criminal prosecution and a lengthy jail term if convicted.

In an essay he wrote before the court case, Mr. Nicklinson said, "It cannot be acceptable in 21st-century Britain that I am denied the right to take my own life just because I am physically handicapped." He added, "It is astonishing that, in 1969, we could put a man on the moon, yet in 2012, we still cannot devise adequate rules for government-assisted dying. …

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