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Star comment: Law not in interest of everyone

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

The case of Noel Conway of Shropshire marks the front line between the law and wider moral considerations.

Noel Conway with his wife Carol (left), stepson Terry McCusker (centre back) and Sarah Wootton, CEO of Dignity in Dying (right)

The law is necessarily clear and inflexible so that everybody knows exactly where they stand legally.

Human experience is diverse, dynamic and complex and when you come to the plight and rights of the terminally ill, the level of complexity in knowing what are the right choices becomes more profound still. Retired lecturer Mr Conway is 67 and is terminally ill with motor neurone disease, a death sentence imposed on him by fate.

He has been battling to be given a choice about the manner in which he will die, and when. He wants a doctor to be allowed to prescribe a lethal dose when his health deteriorates. Should any doctor do so as the law stands, they would face up to 14 years in prison. And so, in the view of Mr Conway, he is condemned to face unbearable suffering.

His latest challenge against the law on assisted dying has failed in the High Court, an incongruous setting in which to make decisions bearing on the life and death of individuals in pain and distress which has taken away all those things which they feel make life worth living in the first place. Mr Conway says he is planning to appeal against the judgment.

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What human being has the wisdom to make a rule which will be the right rule for all those who are going through the same journey as Mr Conway, all having their own opinions on the issue, and with loved ones who share the anguish and wishing for them to have dignity in their final days and for their sufferings to be taken away?

As Mr Conway makes his cry for help, how can it be right to deny him that wish? But, as we have said, this is an area of extraordinary difficulty. The sympathy for Mr Conway is enormous, and in his case fulfilling his wish would be seen as an act of love and kindness.

Yet motivation comes from the heart, and there are those who find the notion that the law could open the door to assisted dying troubling, because of the fear that it would give licence to those whose motivations are not so noble.

This is one big grey area but there is a solution, albeit one that can never be written into the statute books – and that is a law which is, from time to time and in the interests of mercy, prepared to look the other way.

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