Tony Nicklinson received his wish today. After losing a long court battle to get doctors to help him legally end his life, the 58-year-old profoundly disabled man passed away from 'natural causes'; one of them may have been a broken heart.
British law doesn't often prosecute doctors who assist people in dying when they're on the verge of death. But as Eyder wrote in March, the step is usually taken by people who are terminally ill, and who usually have the ability to self-administer lethal medications.
Nicklinson was neither approaching death when he filed his case, nor was he able to give himself drugs. He became paralyzed following a 2005 stroke that left him unable to move or speak. He communicated by blinking. His condition is called 'locked-in syndrome'.
He pleaded through the courts to allow a doctor help him commit suicide. But last week, a British court ruled only Parliament could broaden the country's right-to-die law to include him, and meanwhile, he could not win an exception.
Nicklinson was 'heartbroken', and stopped eating after the decision was released, says the BBC. Nicklinson's attorney says he got pneumonia over the weekend, quickly declined and died today at home. The Telegraph reports Nicklinson's wife Jane says when they learned of the court's decision, "the fight just seemed to go out of him".
In an essay for the BBC, Nicklinson described his life after the stroke as 'a living nightmare', one in which he could not converse, brush his teeth or even scratch an itch. He cast his quest for the right-to-die as one of equality. "It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century Britain that I am denied the right to take my own life just because I am physically handicapped."
He rebutted right-to-die opponents with his own circumstances: "For most people the debate is often remote from ordinary lives but for me, the debate on assisted dying is truly a matter of (an unhappy) life and (a pain-free) death. The next stroke could affect you or a loved one; would you be happy to end up like me?"