Man with locked-in syndrome who fought for doctors to end his life has died

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 22 August 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5729
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

Tony Nicklinson, who recently lost his case in the High Court for the right to ask a doctor to end his life, has died.

A statement from his solicitor issued on 22 August, the day of his death, said that Nicklinson had died peacefully at home with his family around him.

Nickinson, 58, had locked-in syndrome after a stroke in 2005. He had described his life as a “living nightmare.”

Nicklinson was too disabled to kill himself even with help and wanted a doctor to end his life by voluntary euthanasia. He sought a ruling that a doctor who killed him at his own request could rely on the defence of necessity if charged with murder.

Nicklinson’s wife said through the family solicitor that her husband’s condition deteriorated rapidly after the draft High Court judgment on 12 August refusing his claim1 and that the fight seemed to go out of him. He had contracted pneumonia over the weekend and refused food. He had made an Advance Directive in 2004 refusing any life sustaining treatment.

Jane Nicklinson said that her husband was heartbroken by the High Court’s decision that he could not end his life at a time of his choosing with the help of a doctor. He could not understand how the legal arguments on his behalf could not succeed.

Saimo Chahal, his solicitor, said that Nicklinson said to his legal team on 14 August: “So, we lost. In truth I am crestfallen, totally devastated, and very frightened. I fear for the future and the misery it is bound to bring.

“I suppose it was wrong of me to invest so much hope and expectation into the judgment, but I really believed in the veracity of the arguments and quite simply could not understand how anybody could disagree with the logic. I guess I forgot the emotional component.”

The legal case to appeal against the judgment will now end unless someone steps forward in similar circumstances to pursue the action, Chahal said.

He added, “I would like to say what an extraordinary man Tony was. He was gutsy, determined, and a fighter to the end. I only wish the outcome of the case could have been different during Tony’s lifetime. I know that the right to die with dignity issues that Tony championed will not be forgotten due to the light that Tony shone on them and that this important debate will continue due to Tony.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5729