Tributes paid to ‘inimitable’ campaigner who challenged ban on assisted dying

Noel Conway, 71, died on Wednesday at his Shropshire home.

Noel Conway court case
Noel Conway court case

Terminally ill campaigner Noel Conway, who mounted a legal challenge to the ban on assisted dying in the UK, has died at the age of 71.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying said Mr Conway died on Wednesday at his home in Garmston, Shropshire, after making a decision to remove his ventilator with the support of his family and a local hospice.

In statement which Mr Conway had asked Dignity in Dying to release upon his death, the retired lecturer, who had motor neurone disease, 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.

Noel Conway court case
Noel Conway outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London during his legal battle to change the law. (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“No, it will be because I have made a conscious and deliberate effort to end my own life. 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.”

Mr Conway, who called on politicians in 2018 to change the law on assisted dying after his legal fight to die “peacefully and with dignity” was rejected by the UK’s Supreme Court, said in his last statement that it was “perfectly legitimate to remove a ventilator from someone like me”.

He added: “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.

“However, my heart goes out to all those people who are terminally ill with cancers and other horrible diseases which make their lives execrable because they can’t find any release from their terrible suffering.

“I have spent the last several years campaigning to have the law changed. The topic has been aired nationally and is much more prominent now than it ever was.

“I am glad that Parliament is continuing to discuss it and investigate the possibilities of an assisted dying law in line with many other countries over the last few years. It can only be a question of time before assisted dying will be approved in the UK.”

Noel Conway court case
Mr Conway with supporters of his legal challenge outside Telford Justice Centre in Shropshire, which hosted a videolink to Court of Appeal proceedings in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

His wife Carol Conway said her husband had died peacefully and that the hospice team and ventilation nurses had shown empathy and concern, and ensured he had a painless and dignified death.

Mrs Conway said: “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.”

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.”

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