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BHA mourns right to die campaigner and humanist stalwart Jean Davies

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is greatly saddened to hear of the death of Jean Davies, author of Choice in Dying, who died on 1 October after starving herself to death over five weeks. Jean was forced to choose this difficult option because of the lack of a humane assisted dying regime in this country for those who have a settled and uncoereced wish to die, a cause Jean dedicated much of her life to. Jean took her life in the only way she believed was legally available to her and was adamant that no one should find themselves in trouble over her death.

An active member of the humanist movement for decades, Jean was originally from Rossington, Yorkshire. She studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford in 1947, becoming a member of the Young Communist League and Treasurer of the Social Club. However she had to leave Oxford when she got married to her first husband physicist Owen Davis as she did not first gain permission from her college (the practice at the time!) and so completed her studies at the University of London. She went on to become a Maths and History teacher in Cardiff. After her first husband died, Jean returned to Oxford where she remained for the rest of her life. She campaigned for years to gain full membership to her local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) in the city. She also married again, to Peter Wright in 1997

Jean is also recognised for her work with the Voluntary Euthanasia Council since 1976, where served was a Vice President and then later as World President.  A determined campaigner, in her role as World President Jean travelled extensively to put assisted dying on the agenda, including to Mumbai, Kyoto, Melboune, Zurich, and Boston. Jean was pivotal in establishing and developing Right to Die Europe (RTDE) in the 1980s and 90s, and today RTDE is a regional grouping of 26 right to die societies in 15 European countries. She went on to become President of the body.

Jean also wrote Choice in Dying, published in 1997, explaining why the law in this country needed urgent change. She took the decision to starve herself to death, which lasted five weeks, and in the last two of which she also refused water. A staunch campaigner to the end, Jean used this harrowing personal ordeal as an opportunity to highlight the serious deficiency in the laws in the country and the needless suffering which is caused in the absence of an assisted dying legislation. She was interviewed by the Sunday Times four weeks into her fast, and said ‘It is hell. I can’t tell you how hard it is. You wouldn’t decide this unless you thought your life was going to be so bad. It is intolerable… What alternative do I have? The other methods, to my knowledge, are either illegal or I would need to go to [the Dignitas clinic in] Switzerland, and I want to die in my own bed.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said ‘All of us who were fortunate to have known Jean were energised by her commitment, direct manner, and passion, and full of respect for her contribution to the humanist movement, in particular for the right to die over many decades. The fact that she not only chose to take such drastic measures to end her own life but allowed her suffering to be documented in the hope of helping others in the future is a testament to her bravery and fortitude.  We will miss her but are all profoundly grateful for having known her and we will continue her work to fight for assisted dying to advance justice and bring about a more humane society.’

Jean is survived by her four children and two grandchildren.

Notes

For further information or contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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