Ethos Education

Tony Nicklinson: Who has the right to decide when someone should die?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of the concept of Sanctity of Life.
  • Understanding of different arguments for and against euthanasia, and the alternatives.
  • Awareness of different Christian views about suicide.
  • Awareness of other moral dilemmas involved in assisted deaths.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the things that make life worth living, and consider whether their absence might warrant someone choosing to end their own life.
  • Reflect upon the High Court judgement that doctors should not be free from prosecution if they assist a paralysed man in ending his life.
  • Analyse different types of euthanasia and reflect on the legal status of assisted suicide.
  • Evaluate Christian responses to euthanasia, and assess the relevance of different Bible passages to the subject.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a judicial summary concerning the issue of assisted deaths.


Ask the students to think of things that make life worth living. Working in small groups, challenge each group to come up with a list of ten things, then have them feed their findings back to the whole class. Write the list up on the board as they do so.

Once you have compiled the full list, ask the students to think about how life would be without these things. Can they imagine ever losing so many of the things that make life worthwhile that they no longer feel that life is worth living? Explain that for several years, arguments have taken place about whether certain people – for example, those suffering with degenerative illnesses which profoundly reduce physical or mental abilities – have sufficient quality of life to make life worth continuing with. Some argue that people in such a situation should be permitted to bring their lives to an end in order to save them from unnecessary suffering. This is sometimes referred to as ‘assisted suicide’, or ‘euthanasia’. In today’s lesson, you are going to be thinking about euthanasia.


Ask the students if the name Tony Nicklinson means anything to them. Explain, if necessary, that Tony Nicklinson was a 58-year-old man who was paralysed from the neck down. In August 2012 he lost a High Court case to allow doctors to end his life without fear of being prosecuted for assisting in his death. A few days after the verdict, Nicklinson died from pneumonia after refusing food for several days.

Give out the article about the case from and read through it with the students.

Summarise the result of the case by reminding the students that the judge, while expressing the view that Mr Nicklinson’s case (and that of another, unnamed man who was also seeking to have doctors empowered to end his life for him) was deeply moving, ruled that to find in Mr Nicklinson’s favour would be to bring about a change to the existing law, something that he felt was the job of parliament not the courts.

Direct the students to the section of the article headed ‘Right decision’. What arguments are put forward by those who believe that the law should not be changed to allow Mr Nicklinson and others in similar situations to be helped to die? How persuasive do the students find such arguments? Do they think that Parliament should change the law as Mr Nicklinson wanted, or maintain the current legal position on the subject?

Ask the students to think of any specifically Christian arguments either for or against euthanasia. Do any of them know the positions that major Christian churches take on the subject? Give out copies of the Euthanasia: a Gentle and Easy Death worksheets and go through them with the students.

Give out copies of the following news story, where the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – whose mother suffered from dementia and who died a lingering death – gives his thoughts on the subject.

Ask the students whether or not they were surprised that Rowan Williams was against the legalisation of euthanasia. Were they surprised that his own experience of his mother’s illness had not made him more positive towards legalisation? Draw out from the students the main reason given by Rowan Williams and other Christian leaders cited in the article – that life is a gift from God, and it is not our place to decide when to end it.

Give out copies of the Euthanasia: What Does the Bible Say? Worksheet and ask the students to work through the questions on it, either individually or in pairs.


Ask the students to put themselves in the position of the judge ruling on Tony Nicklinson’s case. Ask them to write a short statement on the merits of the case and referring it back to Parliament. The statement should include a recommendation as to whether Parliament should look to change the law to allow people in Nicklinson’s position to receive help in ending their lives, or whether the law should remain as it is. The statement should also address arguments from a specifically Christian perspective, demonstrating the student’s understanding of such arguments. Students should feel free to offer their own opinions on those arguments, assessing whether or not they are persuasive and drawing whatever conclusions the student personally may choose to draw.


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