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Triumph of autonomy

Elizabeth Gibbison considers the delicate balance between human dignity and the sanctity of life following M v N (2015)

22 November 2016

‘If I ever end up like that, shoot me!’ said Mrs N, about her parents living with dementia. So many of us say similar things, but what does it really mean, if we end up in comparable or worse circumstances, and must rely on artificial means to stay alive?

After making this statement, N, once a feisty, proud, self-conscious and well-presented woman, became a sufferer of advanced multiple sclerosis. Her case, brought by her daughter M under section 15 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, explored just this.

Autonomy, as the right to self-determination, is integral to our entire existence. Closely connected to these principles are freedom and dignity, from which we are all to benefit equally – a stance proudly promulgated in the preamble to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While egalitarian in principle, these rights extend only unt...

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