The justices ruled seven-to-two against the appeal brought by Paul Lamb, who has only been able to move his right hand since his accident in 1990, and Jane Nicklinson, whose husband Tony was paralysed after a stroke, court documents showed.

Tony Nicklinson, who was conscious but unable to communicate verbally, refused food and medication after he lost an earlier legal bid to end his life with a doctor's help in 2012 and died a week later.

Both appeals had argued Britain's bar on the men getting help to commit suicide infringed the European Convention on Human Rights.

While it rejected the pleas brought, the court did say it had the "constitutional authority" to intervene in the debate. That ruling effectively challenges parliament to re-examine the assisted suicide law.

Dr Huxtable says that, difficult and sensitive though this ruling is for the families and those involved, the decision itself shouldn't be unexpected as the courts have consistently said that this is a matter for parliament because only parliament can properly consider not just the many moral issues but also the procedural issues were the law to be changed.

"I do sense that the judges are moving to a less prohibitive stance," he says. "At least some judges are starting to say that perhaps the door should be open to a future change in the law."

He says the ruling is a long one that will take time to digest, but it's suggested within it that the courts are now more willing to consider these questions.

"So there is the possibility that if parliament decides that it won't legalise, perhaps a very brave court in the future will say that the law needs to change."

Dr Huxtable says that the issue needs to be part of a much wider national discussion about how we all die. "A wider public discussion about all the different treatments and options available at the end of life is going to be a very important element."

"The door is now open to parliament to re-consider its position on this specific issue and I think that's an opportunity for the public to make its voice heard on whether or not we should edge the law in that direction."

Lord Neuberger, president of the court, said it had not been "appropriate" to rule if the ban on assisted suicide breached the European Convention on Human Rights in these cases, given the way they were presented and the fact that the House of Lords was going to debate the issue in the near future.

"Parliament now has the opportunity to address the issue of whether [the bar on assisted suicide] should be relaxed or modified, and if so how, in the knowledge that, if it is not satisfactorily addressed, there is a real prospect that a further, and successful, application for a declaration of incompatibility may be made," he added in his judgement.

(VoR, Reuters)