Shropshire assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway dies aged 71 at home

Noel Conway, the terminally ill assisted dying campaigner who brought a legal challenge against the ban on assisted dying in the UK, has died at his home in Shropshire.

Assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway
Assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway

The 71-year-old former lecturer, made a decision to remove his ventilator with the support of his family and local hospice saying his quality of life had dipped into the negative.

His wife, Carol, said her husband had a painless and dignified death, dying peacefully and in control.

Mr Conway's death on Wednesday at his home in Garmston, near Shrewsbury, follows his years of campaigning for changes in the law over assisted dying. He was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2014 and had become dependant on a ventilator to breath.

Noel and Carol Conway

In 2017-2018 he brought a judicial review with the support of Dignity in Dying to challenge the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying, arguing that the current law prevented him from exercising his right to choice and control over his death and thus forced him to suffer against his wishes.

The High Court and Court of Appeal both reaffirmed that cases of this nature can be decided upon by the courts, thereby enabling future cases to have an easier passage.

In a poignant statement written before his death, now released by his family, Mr Conway said: "When you read this I will be dead. Not because I have suffered a tragic accident or died suffering from a long-standing or painful disease. No, it will be because I have made a conscious and deliberate effort to end my own life.

Fulfilment

"I suffer from MND and was diagnosed over six years ago knowing that at some stage I would reach a point when my muscles would have deteriorated to such an extent that I could not function effectively.

"Over the past two months it has become increasingly evident to me that the balance of fulfilment in life, or if you like, my quality of life, has dipped into the negative.

"My voice has depleted to the extent that many people cannot now tell what I say and my eyesight recently deteriorated. I'm already a paraplegic and I cannot use my hands or fingers but I am aware that my neck muscles are weakening as are my mouth and speech muscles. I recognise that the time has come to take the decision now to do something about this."

Noel and Carol Conway with supporters

“Under UK law it is perfectly legitimate to remove a ventilator from someone like me. This is not something I would have chosen but I feel that I have no alternative to ending my life without pain and suffering and without compromising others."

Following his death Mrs Conway said: "The hospice team, ventilation nurses and all involved were so supportive of Noel, myself and our children. They ensured Noel had a painless and dignified death, demonstrating empathy and concern for us all.

"Noel was in control, which was so important. However, the uncertainty over how long this would take for Noel and what he might experience presented us all with considerable anxiety. Ultimately, Noel wanted the choice of an assisted death, and I hope his campaigning will bring this option closer to becoming a reality for other terminally ill people in this country.”

'Inimitable'

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Noel will be sorely missed by all of us at Dignity in Dying and we extend our sincere condolences to Carol, their family and friends.

“We are indebted to Noel, an inimitable and award-winning campaigner who helped put assisted dying firmly on the political agenda in this country.

“Noel fought in the courts, lobbied parliamentarians and spoke powerfully to the media about his suffering under the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying, all the while knowing any change would most likely come too late for him.

“Noel will be remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, friend, lecturer, mentor and for playing an instrumental role in bringing us closer to having a safe, compassionate assisted dying law in this country.”

  • If you have been affected by this article contact Samaritans on 116 123 or at samaritans.org

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