Tony Nicklinson and wife Jane on August 16, 2012 in Melksham, England.
'Heartbroken' right-to-die advocate dies
02:02 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: "The fight went out of" Tony Nicklinson after he lost a court case over the right to die

"Goodbye world the time has come, I had some fun," he says before his death

Nicklinson, 58, fought for assisted suicide after a stroke paralyzed him

The court was sympathetic, but said such a major legal change shouldn't come from judges

London CNN  — 

A British man suffering from “locked-in syndrome” who fought a long legal battle over assisted suicide died Wednesday, his family said.

Tony Nicklinson, 58, had been refusing food since last week, contracted pneumonia over the weekend, and “went downhill rapidly,” said his lawyer, Saimo Chahal.

“Before he died, he asked us to tweet: ‘Goodbye world the time has come, I had some fun,’” his Twitter account said.

The former rugby player was left paralyzed from the neck down by a catastrophic stroke seven years ago, and lost a High Court battle last week to gain a legal right to end his life when he chose.

The fight seemed to go out of him after the court’s decision, leaving him “heartbroken,” Chahal said after his death was announced.

His wife, sister and daughters were with him when he died, she said.

“He was gutsy, determined and a fighter to the end,” said Chahal, adding it had been “an absolute privilege” to represent him.

His legal case will not continue unless someone “in similar circumstances” steps forward to pursue it, she said.

Police in the county of Wiltshire, where he lived, said that a doctor had been seeing Nicklinson over the past week, and that they were not investigating the death.

His condition meant it was impossible for him to take his own life, and he wanted the legal right to have a doctor take his life without fear of prosecution.

“Most of my body is paralyzed, but my mind is as it was before the stroke. All I can move is my head, and the stroke took away my power of speech. Now I talk to people with a perspex spelling board or a computer operated by my eye blinks,” he told CNN in an interview in June.

While expressing sympathy for his situation, the High Court ruled August 16 that such a significant change to the law – involving overturning the ban on voluntary euthanasia – would have to be decided by lawmakers.

The judges also rejected a similar challenge to the law brought by a second man suffering from locked-in syndrome, named only as Martin.

Psychiatrist: I hate suicide but also understand it

“The cases raise profoundly difficult ethical, social and legal issues, but (the court) judged that any change to the law must be a matter for Parliament to decide,” a statement from the court said.

The ruling upset Nicklinson, who cried as his wife, Jane, told the waiting media that the family was “bitterly disappointed” and would file an appeal.

“All too often, well-meaning able-bodied people just assume that if a person is so severely disabled that he needs assistance to commit suicide, he must automatically be unable to deal with such choice,” he said in June.

“I say that where a person has the mental ability, he should have the choice of his own life or death. The only difference between you and me is my inability to take my own life,” he said.

In a statement given via his computer last week after the decision, Nicklinson said: “It’s not the result I was hoping for but it isn’t entirely unexpected. Judges, like politicians, are happiest when they can avoid confronting the real issues and this judgment is not an exception to the rule.

“I believe the legal team acting on my behalf is prepared to go all the way with this, but unfortunately for me it means yet another period of physical discomfort, misery and mental anguish while we find out who controls my life – me or the state.”

His daughters, tweeting on his behalf, urged people to sign a petition via his Twitter account supporting his “right to die with dignity.” Within hours, thousands of people had added their names.

Jane Nicklinson said the family did not intend to go to Switzerland, which has an assisted suicide law, because it was expensive and her husband did not think he should have to go overseas to die.

Before his stroke at age 51, the couple lived a comfortable life in the United Arab Emirates and traveled extensively.

Speaking to CNN in June, Jane Nicklinson described her husband before the stroke as a man who was the “life and soul of the party,” making his current severely restricted existence even harder to bear.

“He was a big bloke, ex-rugby player, he worked hard but he played hard,” she said. “He was full of life, great sense of humor, loved the sound of his own voice.”

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Sarah Chiplin, Jo Shelley, Atika Shubert, Alex Felton, Nima Elbagir, Erin McLaughlin and Dominique Van Heerden contributed to this report.