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Paralysed former builder calls for public inquiry into assisted dying

By Alison Kershaw, PA Law Correspondent
·4-min read

A paralysed former builder has called for an inquiry into assisted dying after losing a bid to challenge the law on the issue.

Paul Lamb said he was “devastated” that the Court of Appeal has refused him permission to bring a legal challenge over assisted dying.

He said the decision had left him in a “powerless position”, but added he would continuing “fighting to change this law”.

In an open letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Mr Lamb said the courts had been “unambiguous” in the view that it is the responsibility of Parliament to examine the issue of assisted dying, and urged the minister to meet him to discuss it.

Mr Lamb, from Leeds, requires round-the-clock care after being severely injured in a car accident in 1990.

He has no function below his neck, apart from limited movement in his right arm.

The 65-year-old, who previously lost a right-to-die case in the Supreme Court in 2014, asked the Court of Appeal to allow a fresh challenge of the law on assisted dying to go ahead after being refused permission by the High Court in December last year.

Lawyers for Mr Lamb argued the current law, which bans assisted suicide under threat of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, is discriminatory and breaches his human rights.

But the bid was rejected by a Court of Appeal judge in May this year.

Humanists UK, which has been supporting Mr Lamb in his case, said it had delayed announcing the outcome at the request of Mr Lamb’s carers and medical staff as he had been taken to hospital shortly after the case was refused permission.

The Royal Courts of Justice (Andrew Matthews/PA)
The Royal Courts of Justice (Andrew Matthews/PA)

In a statement, Mr Lamb said: “I am devastated by this decision, and the powerless position it has left me in.

“Without the option of a dignified death, I now have no choice if my pain ever becomes unbearable, other than the horrifying prospect I was most afraid of from the start – slowly starving myself to death.

“I cannot understand, in a civilised society like ours, why I should be forced to suffer when millions of people around the world already have the choice I asked for.

“Throughout my case, all I have been told is how sympathetic others are to my situation.

“But I have never wanted anyone to pity me.

“All I have ever wanted is for my choice to be respected and given equal validity under the law, like everyone else’s.

“Instead this decision, if it is the final word on the matter, condemns me to a life of constant pain, and removes the small part of my life that I could still have some say over – how I want to die.

‘I may have lost this case, but I’m going to continue fighting to change this law’.

In his letter to the Justice Secretary, Mr Lamb referred to the Court of Appeal ruling, saying he was writing “to urge you to take notice of this decision and launch an inquiry into assisted dying, and ask if you might meet with me to discuss this important matter”.

He said: “Although I am devastated by the Court of Appeal’s decision, it has been unambiguous in its view: it is the responsibility of Parliament to examine and resolve the violations of my autonomy and dignity by banning legal, safe, and compassionate assisted dying.”

Mr Lamb said he appreciated there are “legitimate and weighty concerns about legalising assisted dying” including how to protect potentially vulnerable people, but added the evidence available to examine these issues is “materially different” than it was when Parliament investigated more than a decade ago, or in 2015, when it last debated legislation on assisted dying.

In his letter, Mr Lamb also says that the minister’s “repeated assurances of the Government’s and your own ministerial neutrality mean that the only body which would be capable of facilitating an informed debate within Parliament is the Government”.

“This would not mean that the Government would have to adopt a position on assisted dying, it would merely ensure that both those in favour and opposed to a change in the law are given a balanced opportunity to present their evidence,” he said.

Humanists UK’s chief executive Andrew Copson said: “We are disappointed that the courts have yet again failed to challenge one of the most unethical laws in our country.

“However, once again the message of this judgment is clear: Parliament cannot ignore its responsibility to examine this law any longer.

“It is time for MPs to confront the compelling evidence favouring assisted dying, and for the Government to help by issuing a long-overdue inquiry.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have deep sympathy for Mr Lamb and others in the same heartbreaking situation. Any change to the law in an area of such sensitivity and importance must be for individual MPs to consider rather than a decision for Government.”