BHA backs Omid’s challenge to legalise assisted dying

Omid is seeking the right to an assisted death.

Agree with Omid? You can support the fundraiser for his challenge at the High Court to try to overturn the laws banning assisted dying by donating at CrowdJustice.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is pleased to announce that it is supporting its member, known as Omid or ‘T’, who has multiple system atrophy (MSA), in his quest to change through the courts the law that prevents him from being able to access an assisted death. The BHA is working closely with Omid’s lawyers, Bindmans LLP, on the case, which is currently seeking permission for judicial review in the High Court. A permission hearing in the case is due to be heard in the next few weeks (a date is awaited).

MSA is a disease of the nervous system that leads to gradual loss of movement, coordination, and speech, much akin to Parkinson’s disease, and constant pain. It means that while Omid’s quality of life is seriously degraded, he may have years left to live. As such, through his challenge he is seeking the right for everyone who is of sound mind but is either terminally ill or incurably suffering to gain the ability to have assistance to die at a time and in a manner of their choosing.

Last week, the active humanist Noel Conway, who is also seeking to change the law around assisted dying, was denied permission to have his case heard in the High Court. Noel, who is working with Dignity in Dying, is seeking to bring a different case from Omid’s, in that his is only challenging the ban on assisted dying for people with a terminal illness and six months or less to live. The BHA is hopeful that this difference may help Omid succeed in getting permission where Noel didn’t, but at any rate, Noel is now appealing the fact that his permission is denied, an appeal the BHA hopes succeeds.

The BHA has also been working with BHA member Paul Lamb, who has seriously impaired movement due to a car accident and is in constant pain, and who previously brought a claim alongside Tony and Jane Nicklinson, in his continuing quest to challenge the law around assisted dying. Tony had locked-in syndrome but died after his case was heard at the High Court, after which the baton was picked up and taken forward to the Court of Appeal and then Supreme Court by Paul and Jane. The Supreme Court decision in their case appeared to leave the door open to further court challenges.

The Nicklinsons are also supporting Omid’s case.

Commenting today on the BHA’s announcement, Omid said: ‘I am very pleased that the BHA is supporting my case – I wholeheartedly  welcome their support. This is such a significant legal challenge – it will, if successful, help thousands of humanists to realise their ambition of being able to have a  dignified death, when life has dealt us a bad hand with a cruel and debilitating disease and it is  too painful and unbearable to live. No-one with such a condition should be denied the right to a dignified and painless ending. Please help me with my legal case – I cannot do it without your help.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘Omid’s case speaks so powerfully to the way in which the law, as it stands, denies individuals the dignity and autonomy to choose to end their life and avoid needless pain and suffering. We therefore strongly support his claim to challenge the law, and look forward to working with him to try and ensure he succeeds.’

Omid’s story

‘I was born in Iran and came to the UK aged 12 in August 1975. I am a British Citizen. I started working at the age of 17 and have worked all my life  as a property developer until about 2008, when the first signs of my illness appeared.

‘I have also experienced the joy of being married and having children. I married my wife on 10th August 1990, aged 27 and we have 3 children. We separated on 30th March 2015. I don’t want people to see me suffering and  don’t want my children to remember me as I am now. This is my choice, rather than theirs.

‘The first signs of my illness were that my speech became very slurred and when I spoke on my mobile the listener could not understand me. I also began to experience difficulty in walking, writing and with other tasks.

‘In 2014, I was diagnosed with the incurable illness, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), by consultants at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Now I am largely confined to my bed, have to wear a catheter bag and need help with all my personal care. My speech has deteriorated and the muscle weakness continues apace.

‘I tried to end my life by taking an overdose in 2015, but I failed! I don’t have the ability to take my own life anymore and I don’t want to botch it up again anyway.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636. Omid is only giving a very limited number of interviews arranged through the BHA and his lawyers. Jane Nicklinson and her daughter Lauren are also available for interview.

Details of the case

Omid is represented by Saimo Chahal QC (Hon) of Bindmans LLP and Paul Bowen QC of Brick Court Chambers, who previously represented Tony and Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, and Debbie Purdy before that as well. The BHA intervened in support of the Nicklinsons and Lamb, being the only organisation to do so, and is still working with Paul Lamb in his campaign to change the law.

Omid is currently crowdfunding for his case, seeking £10,000 to cover High Court fees for the first stage of the case. He will need further financial support for the further stages, which will include getting experts from the USA and other countries to give evidence and fund their costs along with legal costs.

A court order prevents the name, address, or schools of Omid’s wife and children, or any personal details about them, including their photographs or images, from being published, as he does not want them to be contacted or disturbed in any way. Omid is referred to as Omid or T and his surname and the address of his home cannot be disclosed, under the terms of the same court order. However, press may use the images and video on his CrowdJustice page.

Current position of the case

Directions from the court received on 29 March specify that the Secretary of State for Justice must file her summary grounds by 13 April and an oral hearing for permission to apply for judicial review should be scheduled as early as possible thereafter.

These directions are unaffected by the denial of permission in the separate Conway case.

About the BHA

Read the BHA’s previous comment on the Conway case: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/03/30/assisted-dying-case-denied-permission-in-the-high-court/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work 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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