Phil Newby was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2014. Five years on, he is unable to walk, use his hands or lower arms, but can still talk and, as with many people with similar diseases, his mental capacity is totally unaffected.
Prior to the onset of MND, the dual English and French national played a range of sports and enjoyed a busy family life with his wife and two daughters, and worked as a Director at Green Ventures.
MND has robbed Phil of many of the most enjoyable aspects of life, but he is making the most of the time he has left with his family. Whilst he has come to accept that MND will eventually kill him, he cannot accept the UK’s cruel and outdated suicide laws which will strip him of all autonomy and dignity when that time comes.
Without medical assistance to end his life when his condition becomes unbearable, Phil has very few options. With little control of his arms, he’s unlikely to be able to commit suicide without ‘botching’ it, or potentially incriminating his loved ones if they were deemed to be providing assistance. By seeking a compassionate death in Switzerland whilst he is still in a position to make arrangements and travel, he risks sacrificing several precious months or years with his young family.
The reality for Phil, like many others before him, is that he will slowly lose his ability to breathe, move, swallow, and communicate and will starve, suffocate or choke to death. The level of distress this will cause Phil and his family is hard to imagine – except by those who’ve witnessed their own loved ones suffer this way. They will understand the torment this involves.
Phil is fighting for a change to the law, to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months to die in a humane way. This is a move that over 80% of the British public supports, according to consistent polling.
The model proposed, has strict legal safeguards in place to protect the vulnerable. In countries where assisted dying is legal has been no proven case of coercion, nor a ‘slippery slope’ widening of the eligibility criteria.
Phil is bringing his case to ‘lay down the gauntlet’, asking our most senior judges to examine the evidence and make a fully informed ruling about assisted dying in the UK.
Paul Bowen QC and Jennifer MacLeod of Brick Court Chambers are acting for Phil Newby instructed by Saimo Chahal QC (Hon) of Bindmans LLP.