A terminally ill man recently visited Dignitas to die, accompanied by his wife. However, the Forfeiture Act 1982 lays down a simple rule that an individual cannot benefit from someone's death if they unlawfully aided, abetted or procured the death. We look how this recent High Court case challenged the Act.
Mr Ninian had progressive supranuclear palsy and was in the final stages of his life when he decided to seek assistance from Dignitas to end his own life. He sought legal advice before reaching this decision and his lawyers prepared a statement on his behalf stating that his wife had been opposed to his decision and that he had made the decision of his own free will. Once Mr Ninian had made the necessary arrangements, his wife accompanied him to Dignitas because he was too disabled by his illness to travel alone.
In the UK, assisting someone to end their own life is a Criminal Offence so Mrs Ninian faced the potential of prosecution on her return to the UK.
However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest to do so.
The next issue, however, was whether or not Mrs Ninian would inherit her husband's estate, as the Forfeiture Act 1982 would suggest that she was now precluded from inheriting.
Mrs Ninian applied to the court to ask that the forfeiture rule be waived in her case and, after considering a number of factors, the court agreed to do so allowing her to inherit her husband's estate in accordance with the terms of his Will. In reaching this decision the court considered the statement prepared by Mr Ninian's lawyers and also that Mrs Ninian's claim was not challenged because there were no children of the marriage.
The court concluded that Mrs Ninian would inherit his entire £1.8m estate under the terms of his Will despite having accompanied him to Dignitas to end his own life