Making Decisions

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (2012) 9:385–393

U. of Adelaide Law Research Paper No. 133

Posted: 22 Oct 2018

See all articles by Bernadette Richards

Bernadette Richards

University of Adelaide - School of Law

Date Written: October 18, 2018


The recent decision of Tony Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice; AM v Director of Public Prosecution [2012] EWHC 2381 highlights the vexed questions that can arise when an individual right to choose clashes with the public interest in respecting sanctity of life and consistency at law. The main judgment was presented by Toulson LJ, and it was this judgment that provides the source for the discussion to follow. The judgment began with open acknowledgment of the tragic nature of the cases before the court that present “society with ethical questions of the most difficult kind” ([1]). Both of the plaintiffs were recognised as suffering from “catastrophic physical disabilities,” although their mental processes remained unimpaired. They both suffered from “locked in syndrome” and wished to die “with dignity and without further suffering” ([2]). Due to the profound nature of their disabilities, however, neither could achieve this aim without assistance, and these individuals turned to the courts seeking reassurances that their loved ones would not be prosecuted, clarification of the law, and/or a declaration that the provisions of the domestic law (Suicide Act 1961) conflicted with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (2010). The High Court rejected these challenges and declined to make any of the requested orders, concluding that to do so would constitute an unacceptable change in the law that is best left to Parliament. This brief note will provide an overview of the decision and clarify why the Court came to this conclusion.

Keywords: descision of when a life can end

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K32, K39

Suggested Citation

Richards, Bernadette, Making Decisions (October 18, 2018). Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (2012) 9:385–393 , U. of Adelaide Law Research Paper No. 133, Available at SSRN:

Bernadette Richards (Contact Author)

University of Adelaide - School of Law ( email )

Adelaide, South Australia 5005

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