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Noel Conway’s right to die claim dismissed by High Court

Humanist and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway.

Noel Conway’s challenge to the law against assisted dying has this morning been dismissed by the High Court. Humanists UK member Noel suffers from motor neurone disease, and had his claim heard in July. Humanists UK, which intervened in the case in his support, has expressed its disappointment at the decision. Noel intends to appeal the decision, and Humanists UK will seek to intervene in any appeal.

Noel, who is supported by Dignity in Dying, is challenging the illegality of assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and have six months or fewer to live. Separately, another Humanists UK member, ‘Omid T’, is bringing a case to also challenge the fact that those who are incurably suffering cannot access an assisted death. Humanists UK is applying to also intervene in Omid’s claim, which is due to be heard before the High Court later this year or early next.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are hugely disappointed at the decision of the High Court today. It is simply wrong that those who are of sound mind but are terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice and dignity to die at a time of their choosing.

‘We will be supporting Noel in his appeal, as well as Omid in his own challenge, and hope to see today’s judgment overturned.’

Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP, who acted on behalf of Humanists UK, commented, ‘This is a disappointing decision for those who believe that terminally ill people should have the right to choose the timing of their death. Clear parameters were proposed to manage any risks arising from assisted dying and we hoped that the court would embrace the arguments for a change to the current legislation.

‘We will continue to support Humanists UK in this important quest for a change to the law.’

Details of the decision

Noel’s case is brought using article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, arguing that section 2 of the Suicide Act interferes with his right to private and family life.

Noel’s decision represents some advance over the previous decision, in the challenge brought to the Supreme Court in 2014 by Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb. There, the court decided that as the issue was such a high profile ethical debate, Parliament should first of all have a chance to decide the matter, before the courts do. However, in 2015 the House of Commons rejected an Assisted Dying Bill. So, today the judges have decided for the first time that the court should now engage with the substantial issues at hand. Unfortunately, however, the court decided that preventing Noel from being able to access an assisted death is legitimate under the Convention.

Humanists UK has been represented in its intervention by Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers. Humanists UK made written and oral submissions.

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.

Read Humanists UK’s previous comment, on the conclusion of the High Court hearing: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/07/20/noel-conways-assisted-dying-hearing-concludes-in-high-court/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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