Justices of the Supreme Court today ruled against an appeal that would see a step taken towards legalising euthanasia in the UK.
Seven of nine judges voted to uphold the current law outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act, which prevents doctors from assisting with suicides, amid fears that it could lead to cases of involuntary or coerced deaths.
However, five judges ruled that a prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with the human right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Paul Lamb, who was almost completely paralysed from the neck down in a traffic accident over two decades ago, and Jane Nicklinson – wife of Tony, who was also paralysed from the neck down following a stoke in 2005 and who died naturally last year after losing a court battle to end his life legally – spearheaded the appeal, supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA).
They argue that an individual should have the right to die with dignity should they so wish, and want protections put in place for medical professionals who choose to assist in the process.
Though the case was lost, lead judge Lord Neuberger urged parliament to reconsider the issue and pro-assisted suicide campaigners have thus not yet lost hope.
"I know it is going to change," declared Lamb following the decision this morning.
"I am disappointed that we lost," added Nicklinson. "But it is a very positive step."
Politics.co.uk reports that BHA chief executive Andrew Copson commented: "So long as there are strict safeguards, it is our moral duty as a society to give assistance to mentally competent adults who are suffering incurably, permanently incapacitated, and have made a clear and informed decision to end their life but are unable to do so independently.
"We will continue our work to see this happen at last, and are proud to support the brave individuals who continue to bring these cases, overcoming great personal tragedies in order to advance justice and bring about a more humane society."
Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, however, insisted that any attempt to offer protections for doctors would "weaken" sanctions put in place to safeguard vulnerable people.
"This is good news for the many vulnerable people who would have been at risk if the attempt to weaken the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide had been allowed by the Supreme Court," she said, according to the BBC.
"The murder law is there to set the highest priority on the importance and value of life and to protect it....Parliament needs to continue to resist the repeated attempts by a small and determined lobby group to legalise assisted suicide."
SPUC Pro-Life, an anti-euthanasia group, also released a statement condemning the possible weakening of anti-suicide protections.
General Secretary Paul Tully said: "Although the Supreme Court has rejected the Nicklinson appeal in general, several Supreme Court justices have encouraged and even pressured Parliament to pass Lord Falconer's Assisted Suicide Bill. Today's judgment shows the real danger that judges who want to see assisted suicide allowed will undermine the Falconer bill's weak safeguards for vulnerable people if the bill is passed. This danger adds to the urgent need for Parliamentarians robustly to oppose the Falconer bill.
"Death as a new 'right' is a false right, that will not empower the vulnerable, but will empower the strong to kill the weak, the clever to kill the less educated, the fit to kill the unfit, adults to kill children."
Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill is due to be voted on by Peers this summer. The legislation would make it legal for doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients with lethal doses of drugs upon request.