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Whose right is it to die?

 

Article date:  31/07/2013

Leading Care and Capacity lawyer at law firm Higgs & Sons, Janna Pugh has been watching with interest the recent news of the Right to Die challenge following the appeal bought by the family of late locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson and paralysed road accident victim Paul Lamb. Today the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling passed down to Tony Nicklinson preventing his wish to have medical professionals assist with his suicide.

Janna comments "Every person has the right to make decisions about their own health and welfare whilst they have capacity to make those decisions. When someone loses capacity to decide for themselves then the law steps in to assist in making decisions about things like:

- your daily routine (e.g. eating and what to wear);
- medical care;
- moving into a care home; and
- refusing life-sustaining treatment.

A Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney allows you to appoint one or more people (known as 'attorneys') to make those decisions when you cannot. If you have not appointed an attorney, professionals such as doctors and social workers may make decisions on your behalf."

She continues, "Contrary to public opinion, your next of kin has no legal authority to make such decisions. If there is disagreement, professionals or anyone interested in your welfare such as relatives, may apply to the Court of Protection for their ruling on a specific decision. Neither attorneys nor the Court of Protection can rule on assisted suicide as this is a crime. Decisions can however be made whether to refuse consent on your behalf to life-sustaining treatment."

The high profile case of the late Tony Nicklinson has highlighted the concerns that face many people where they want to go beyond what the law currently allows.

Today the Court of Appeal rejected the argument that help and assistance should be able to be given to certain people, in specified circumstances to end their lives. Whilst expressing deep sympathy they confirmed that it would be wrong for a court to depart from long-established legal principles that "voluntary euthanasia is murder, however understandable the motives may be". Anyone who assisted or encouraged another person to commit suicide would be at risk of prosecution.

The Court noted that it was for Parliament, not the courts, to decide whether the law in this difficult area should be changed.

For advice on making Lasting Powers of Attorney or if anything in this article has affected you and you would like further information please do not hesitate to contact janna.pugh@higgsandsons.co.uk who is part of Higgs & Sons' Care and Capacity Team or call her on 0845 111 5050.

Higgs & Sons works from two offices in the Black Country, Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill and Kingswinford. The firm employs over 200 people, including 100 lawyers.

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