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Lamb and Nicklinson assisted dying cases dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights

Jane Nicklinson (right) pictured with her late husband, Tony. Photo credit: Jane Nicklinson.

Jane Nicklinson (right) pictured with her late husband, Tony, prior to his stroke. Photo credit: Jane Nicklinson.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has today dismissed challenges to UK law banning assisted dying brought by Jane Nicklinson, whose husband Tony had locked-in syndrome before he died in 2012, and Paul Lamb, who is also paralysed and in constant pain. However, the cases leave open the possibility of a future UK court decision which might legalise assisted dying. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which campaigns in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering and was the only organisation to have intervened in support of the Nicklinsons and Lamb, has expressed disappointment at the decision.

Last summer the UK Supreme Court dismissed Jane and Paul’s case on the basis that they felt it would be preferable for the UK Parliament, rather than the courts, to decide whether or not to legalise assisted dying – but left open the possibility of revisiting the matter if Parliament failed to do so. Parliament did subsequently fail to do so as when the Assisted Dying Bill proposed by Lord Falconer was discussed it didn’t address the situation of the incurably suffering and in any case the Government refused to give it sufficient time to enable it to progress very far. A new Assisted Dying Bill is now being proposed in the House of Commons, but the Government has already indicated that it will also not give it the time needed to progress to being law.

However, the ECtHR decided that in Jane Nicklinson’s case the Supreme Court was entitled to make the decision that it did. In Paul Lamb’s case it was decided that the arguments put forward had not been fully considered by the domestic courts. Both decisions therefore leave the door open for further court challenges.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are disappointed by today’s decision which simply passes the buck back to the UK courts and Parliament but in the meantime it cruelly leaves those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering and have a settled wish to end their lives in a dignified manner unable to seek assistance to do so and instead forced to continue their lives in pain. We will continue to press this matter through the courts and in Parliament until one body or another recognises the rights of individuals like Tony and Paul to have their wishes fulfiled.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns, at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association intervened at the Supreme Court where it was represented by Yogi Amin and Marcelo Masri (Irwin Mitchell), and Heather Rogers QC, Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Maria Roche (Doughty Street Chambers) on the side of assisted dying.

Read today’s judgment: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-156476

Read the ECtHR’s press release summarising the decision: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/003-5133990-6337792

Read about the Supreme Court’s decision last year: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/25/assisted-dying-appeals-supported-bha-dismissed-supreme-court-parliament-urged-review-law/

Read more about the BHA’s campaign on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

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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