Everything about this story is terrible, but only part of the terrible lies with the existence of something as nightmarish as locked-in syndrome, meaning complete paralysis except for the ability to blink (total locked-in syndrome means the eyes are paralyzed as well). The other awful part is the fact that two British men who have been suffering from this syndrome for years, since they suffered strokes, have to have their fates decided by courts. And the courts have said that the right to die is not for them to rule on at all.
Now the men —Tony Nicklinson and a man known only as "Martin" — the former of whom was joined by his wife and daughters who support his decision to die, either have to choose to live the rest of their natural lives unable to move their muscles, or they have to starve themselves to death, or put together the money and effort to go abroad to commit legal suicide in the Netherlands or Switzerland. They do not, it seems, have the right to die at home as they wish.
According to The Daily Mail:
Nicklinson sought assurance that it would not be unlawful for a doctor to assist him to die, or a declaration that the current law on murder or assisted suicide was incompatible with his right for respect for his private life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.
Lawyers for Martin sought a court order to force the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to clarify whether health professionals willing to assist him to kill himself via Dignitas would be "more likely than not" to face prosecution in England, and further assurances that professionals would not risk disciplinary proceedings.
Lord Justice Toulson, the decider along with two other judges, wrote that the implications for letting the men die, as well as assuring them that any helpers would be free from punishment, were too vast for the court to decide, it has to be up to Parliament.
It's true that on occasion there are seemingly miraculous recoveries from strokes and even from locked-in syndrome, and fascinating technologies have been invented to facilitate communication for these unfortunate souls. Nickilson is even on twitter, many of his followers have messaged him to urge him to reconsider his desire to die. But Nicklinson, who would definitely know best, said (through his computer) in response to the verdict:
'I believe that the legal team acting on my behalf are prepared to go all the way on this but unfortunately for me it means yet another period of physical discomfort, misery and mental anguish while we find out who controls my life, me or the state.'
Unfortunately, he has learned that that it's the state who gets veto power over life and death after all.
Assisted suicide is illegal throughout the U.K.. The Suicide Act of 1961 says that someone assisting in Euthanasia can get up to 14 years in prison.
In the U.S. physician aided suicide is only legal in Oregon, Montana, and Washington. The most famous U.S. advocate of aided suicide and euthanasia was of course the late, oft-prosecuted Dr. Jack Kevorkian. For legal assisted suicide in the U.S., however, the patient must get multiple doctors' approval and be terminally ill. Victims of locked-in syndrome can potentially live for decades. It's exceedingly offensive for government to have a say in this at all. We're all hypocrites —I know I would try to tackle someone trying to jump off a bridge, even if I believe in the abstract righ to suicide, and I cannot imagine the horror of having to support a loved one's desire to end their life — but the idea of a cool panel of judges or M.P.s deciding this sort of thing is fundamentally repellent. That is the opposite of truly owning your own body.