From Pretty to Nicklinson: Changing Judicial Attitudes to Assisted Dying

Nataly Papadopoulou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Assisting the death of another individual upon request is one of the most contentious medico-legal questions of our times. This article discusses and contrasts the Dianne Pretty case and Tony Nicklinson case to show the conflict between the prohibition on assisted suicide in England and Wales and human rights law, and also reveals that judicial attitudes to assisted dying in the United Kingdom have changed, highlighting problems with the current prohibition. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some judges in the United Kingdom are now dealing with how the law could change, not with whether the law should change. Moreover, the very recent cases of Noel Conway and Omid will certainly further shape the assisted dying debate in the United Kingdom, but perhaps most importantly act as proof that the debate is far from concluded. Despite the progress made by the courts in recent "right-to-die" cases, a change in the law is unlikely without some form of governmental support.
This article discusses the key right-to-die cases in England and Wales of the last 20 years, with a focus on the Dianne Pretty and Tony Nicklinson cases. By discussing and contrasting these two cases, the article argues that judicial attitudes to assisting death in the United Kingdom have changed. While the reasoning and language of judges has shifted since the Pretty case in 2001 to highlight problems with the current prohibition on assisting death, the High Court in March 2017 refused Mr Noel Conway, a terminally ill man, permission to apply for judicial review of the law.1 At the time of finalising the current article in April 2017, the Court of Appeal overruled the decision,2 and a full hearing before the High Court is expected.3
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-307
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean human rights law review
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes


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