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‘Right to die’ campaigner had ‘no alternative’ but to remove ventilator to end his life

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A terminally ill man who campaigned to change the law on assisted dying has died aged 71 after making a decision to remove his ventilator, a campaign group has said.

Noel Conway was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014 and in 2018 his legal fight to die “peacefully and with dignity” was rejected by the Supreme Court.

The retired college lecturer died at his home in Garmston, Shropshire on Wednesday.

A statement from campaign group Dignity in Dying said: “He died after making a decision to have the ventilator he had become dependent on to breathe removed in order to hasten his death, with the support of his family, his local hospice, and the breathing and ventilation team.”

Mr Conway with his supporters at Telford County Court. Pic: Dignity in Dying
Image: Mr Conway with his supporters at Telford County Court. Pic: Dignity in Dying

Mr Conway’s quality of life had deteriorated so much that he said he had “made a conscious and deliberate effort to end my own life”.

In a statement written before his death he said he had “no alternative to ending my life without pain and suffering and without compromising others”.

His wife Carol Conway said: “Noel died peacefully on the 9th of June 2021. The hospice team, ventilation nurses and all involved were so supportive of Noel, myself and our children. They ensured Noel had a painless and dignified death, demonstrating empathy and concern for us all. Noel was in control, which was so important.

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“However, the uncertainty over how long this would take for Noel and what he might experience presented us all with considerable anxiety. Ultimately, Noel wanted the choice of an assisted death, and I hope his campaigning will bring this option closer to becoming a reality for other terminally ill people in this country.”

Dignity in Dying released the full statement from Mr Conway which it said he wanted to be released upon his death.

It said: “When you read this I will be dead. Not because I have suffered a tragic accident or died suffering from a long-standing or painful disease. No, it will be because I have made a conscious and deliberate effort to end my own life. I suffer from MND and was diagnosed over six years ago knowing that at some stage I would reach a point when my muscles would have deteriorated to such an extent that I could not function effectively.

“…Over the past two months it has become increasingly evident to me that the balance of fulfilment in life, or if you like, my quality of life, has dipped into the negative… my voice has depleted to the extent that many people cannot now tell what I say and my eyesight recently deteriorated… I’m already a paraplegic and I cannot use my hands or fingers but I am aware that my neck muscles are weakening as are my mouth and speech muscles. I recognise that the time has come to take the decision now to do something about this…

“Under UK law it is perfectly legitimate to remove a ventilator from someone like me. This is not something I would have chosen but I feel that I have no alternative to ending my life without pain and suffering and without compromising others… However, my heart goes out to all those people who are terminally ill with cancers and other horrible diseases which make their lives execrable because they can’t find any release from their terrible suffering.

“…I have spent the last several years campaigning to have the law changed. The topic has been aired nationally and is much more prominent now than it ever was. I am glad that parliament is continuing to discuss it and investigate the possibilities of an assisted dying law in line with many other countries over the last few years… It can only be a question of time before assisted dying will be approved in the UK…”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK