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Germany’s top court overturns ban on physician-assisted dying

Germany’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a law forbidding professional assistance to die is unconstitutional, in a move that is being seen as a major victory for assisted dying campaigners.

The decision, which centred on a controversial 2015 law – which legalised the right for individuals to purchase life-ending substances for ‘altruistic motives’ but forbade doctors or other professionals from prescribing substances for ‘enterprise purposes’ – found that to deny adults the right to professional assistance unlawfully denies them a ‘right to a self-determined death’.

The judgment has been hailed as a major victory for right-to-die campaigners for clarifying the law for those who are terminally ill, since the Court had already ruled in 2017 doctors could not always deny adults who were ‘seriously and incurably ill’ access to similar drugs.

Previously, the law had meant that any doctor who assisted a patient to end their life could face up to 5 years’ imprisonment, resulting in more than 120 people individually applying for life-ending substances to Germany’s Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices without any professional assistance between 2015 and 2019.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and incurably suffering, has welcomed the decision. Humanists UK is supporting Paul Lamb in his bid to change the law on assisted dying in the UK.

It will now be up to Germany’s Government to propose legislation to bring the law in line with the Court’s ruling.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘There is now an abundance of evidence demonstrating that a balance between respect for an individual’s autonomy and robust safeguards can be achieved under a sensible and transparent law on assisted dying. Yet, whilst more than 150 million people around the world now have the right to a peaceful and painless death, our own law continues to force those who are incurably suffering to die without dignity or compassion. There is a better way forward, and it is time for the UK to follow in the footsteps of our European neighbours.

‘Dying in a manner and at a time of your own choice is a fundamental human right, and we welcome the decision of Germany’s Court decision as yet another affirmation of this.’

Recent weeks have also seen governments in Spain and Portugal make decisive steps towards legal assisted dying.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s assisted dying legal case.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Medical voices and campaigners urge BMA members to support assisted dying

Around 30 doctors, philosophers, academics, and campaigners have written an open letter urging members of the British Medical Association (BMA) to support assisted dying in its survey which closes this week.

The joint letter, printed in The Guardian today, was organised by the UK Assisted Dying Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a founding member, and follows just days after the Royal College of GPs voted to maintain their opposition to assisted dying, despite a majority of GPs wanting to move to a neutral or supportive position.

Among those who have signed the letter are Professor A.C. Grayling, Professor John Harris, Dr Henry Marsh, Dr Wendy Savage, Melanie Reid MBE, Dr Michael Irwin, The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna, and Professor Raymond Tallis.

The full letter and signatories is below.

As medical practitioners increasingly recognise the importance of autonomy and include the public in the planning and delivery of healthcare, it has become vital to listen to and engage with our patients’ wishes. Yet, when it comes to assisted dying, we have become out of step.

In 2006, the British Medical Association (BMA) moved to oppose assisted dying. Even back then, polls indicated considerable public support for assisted dying, and people rarely travelled abroad to end their life.

But, in the years since, public support for a change in the law has risen to around 90%. Despite the best efforts of palliative care, at least one UK citizen a week is forced to leave their home and travel to Switzerland to have an assisted death – which at best, is a decision fraught with emotional and financial cost, and at worst involves someone ending their life before they would otherwise wish.

It is time for change. Over 150 million people worldwide have gained the option of a safeguarded assisted death, as more countries, including Canada, have changed their laws. If other countries can achieve this in a safe and legal manner, why can’t we?

The BMA’s survey on assisted dying closes this Thursday. We urge members to vote in support of reform.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Carrie Hynds, Chair, Assisted Dying Coalition

Trevor Moore, Chair, My Death, My Decision

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland

Michael Tailbard, Deputy Coordinator, End of Life Choices Jersey

Peter Warren, Chair Executive, Friends at the End

Stacey Adam, Assisted Dying Campaigner

Dr Julian Baggini, Associate reader in philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Helen Beebee, Samuel Hall Professor of Philosophy, University of Manchester

Peter Cave, Lecturer in philosophy for the Open University and City University, London and chair of the Humanist Philosophers Group

Professor Matthew Clayton, Professor of Political Theory, University of Warwick

Professor John Dupré, Professor of Philosophy of Science and Director, University of Exeter

Dr Nicholas Everitt, Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of East Anglia

Professor AC Grayling Master of New College of the Humanities, supernumerary fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and co-editor of the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism

Professor John Harris, Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester, Visiting Professor in Bioethics, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London and Distinguished Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

Dr Alan Haworth, Philosopher and Author

Dr Peter J. King, Lecturer in Philosophy, Pembroke College

Professor Maggie Kinloch, Professor Emerita and former Deputy Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Dr Michael Irwin, Former Medical Director for the United Nations

Dr Henry Marsh, Bestselling author and Neurosurgeon

The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna

Professor Sheila McLean LLB, Emeritus Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, University of Glasgow

Professor Richard Norman, Emeritus professor of moral philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Eric Olson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards, Professor of practical philosophy, University of Oxford

Melanie Reid MBE, Author and Journalist

Dr Wendy Savage, Former member of the GMC and BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee

Dr Martin Scurr, GP and Medical Adviser Doc Martin

Professor Peter Simons, Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Lord Jeremy Purvis

Professor Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine University of Manchester

Nigel Warburton, freelance philosopher

Professor John White, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education, University College London.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

See the letter in The Guardian.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Doctors urged to participate in BMA poll on assisted dying

Humanists UK member and paralysis suffer Paul Lamb, who has campaigned for the right to die for many years

Humanists UK has urged its members and supporters to ask their GPs or friends and family in the medical profession to support compassionate, safe, and legal assisted dying by voting in support of assisted dying in the British Medical Association’s (BMA) survey on the topic – which closes on 27 February.

Although the BMA has previously adopted a neutral stance on assisted dying, in 2006 they changed this position and became opposed. The trade union, which represents some 160,000 of the UK’s medical professionals, has now launched its first-ever membership-wide consultation on the topic which will feed into a debate at its Annual Representative Meeting in June, where a final decision on the medical body’s position on the topic will be reached.

In its survey, the BMA asks doctors whether it should actively support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on assisted dying for adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or incurably suffering – which would include permitting it for individuals like Paul Lamb, who Humanists UK is currently supporting to bring a legal case challenging the prohibitive law in England and Wales.

It also asks what position members think the BMA should take in regard to doctors administering legal substances (often known as voluntary-active-euthanasia).

To help ensure adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or incurably suffering, can die with dignity, Humanists UK is asking its members and supporters to write to their GPs or any doctors they know and ask them to support a change in the law on assisted dying. 

Humanists UK particularly is also appealing to sympathetic doctors and medical friends to vote in support of a change in policy. In some places in the survey, doctors are able to share their opinion on how the law should change. Humanists UK has prepared the following extra supporting information which can be used as part of a response.

  • The right to determine the manner and timing of one’s death is a fundamental human right, and should be available for everyone who is of sound mind and either terminally ill or incurably suffering.
  • It is vital that all human beings are able to live their lives while maintaining their dignity, autonomy, and choice, and that is only possible if the law is changed.
  • More than one person a week in the UK travels to Switzerland to end their life. This is double what the number was five years ago, and is despite the best efforts of palliative care.
  • Public opinion is now at a record high and more than 90% of the public support a change in the law.
  • More countries than ever, including Canada, have now legalised assisted dying and demonstrated the best way to protect patients, their families, and doctors through a robust and open system of safeguards.

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Campaigner at keiron@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3001.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s case for the right to die.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We recognise that any assisted dying law must contain stringent safeguards, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Court of Appeal rejects Phil Newby’s right-to-die case

Assisted dying campaigner Phil Newby, who suffers from motor neurone disease and has been pushing for a change in the law on assisted dying, has been denied permission by the Court of Appeal.

Phil, 49, a father of two from Rutland, and member of Humanists UK, had asked the court for the right to examine an extensive body of evidence on assisted dying and cross-examine expert witnesses.

Last year, his case had been rejected by the High Court who ruled the issue should be resolved by Parliament instead.

Humanists UK is also working closely with its member Paul Lamb in appealing his case which was rejected by the High Court in December 2019. In 2014 Paul brought a legal case to the Supreme Court, which secured a promise from the court that it would look against the issue should Parliament fail to legislate – making Phil Newby’s case possible.

Last week MPs debated initiating a call for evidence on assisted dying for the first time since Paul and Phil’s cases were heard.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘We are disappointed the Court of Appeal has refused permission to bring Phil’s case, but will continue to support him and Paul Lamb – who we hope has a stronger prospect of success.

‘More countries than ever have now legalised the option of a safeguarded assisted death, and proven that a compassionate law need not come at the expense of robust safeguards. Adults of sound mind, who are incurably suffering or terminally ill, deserve the right to die on their own terms, and it is a disgrace our laws have forced so many to die, with little dignity, for so long.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read our previous news item on Phil Newby.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

MPs debate inquiry into assisted dying as humanist MPs show support

MPs have debated proposals calling for an independent inquiry into the UK’s prohibitive law on assisted dying. Humanists UK welcomed the Commons debate, briefing members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) ahead of the debate.

Introducing the Westminster Hall debate, Christine Jardine MP called upon the Secretary of State for Justice to initiate an inquiry into assisted dying which is rational and evidence-based – saying that the current law had created a two-tier system within the UK and denied compassion to those unable to afford the costs of travelling abroad to die.

Although a minority of MPs challenged the move, a majority supported the case. Introducing herself as a humanist, new MP Rachel Hopkins said she believed people deserved the right to autonomy over how they lived their lives. She spoke about the case of Diane Pretty which had demonstrated the ‘glaring failure of the current legislation’ and ‘creates an ultimatum whereby law-abiding people have to choose between supporting those they love and following the law’.

Among other MPs who also spoke in support of assisted dying, APPHG member Karin Smyth highlighted concerns that the current law could be abused and that the best way to protect both the incurably suffering and terminally ill would be through an open, transparent, and safeguarded system.

The latest development internationally for a change in the law came from Western Australia’s move last year to legalise assisted dying for adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or suffer from incurable degenerative conditions.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘We welcome this debate and the move to consider holding an independent inquiry into assisted dying in the future. In the half-decade since MPs last considered this issue, there has been a seachange in the evidence available and several progressive countries have changed their laws – proving that a balance between respecting autonomy and stringent safeguards can be struck.

‘The right to choose how, where, and when we die is essential because it speaks to the fundamental human right of autonomy. Parliament is seriously out of step with public attitudes on this issue, as more than 90% of the public now support changing the law. Despite what a minority may think, adults of sound mind but who are incurably suffering or terminally ill deserve to be treated with compassion, empathy, and respect and sadly this won’t be possible until the law changes’.

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read a transcript of the debate. 

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Phil Newby refused permission by High Court to challenge ban on assisted dying

Phil Newby, who has motor neurone disease, has today been refused permission by the High Court to challenge England and Wales’s prohibitive law on assisted dying. Humanists UK has expressed disappointment at the decision, but hopes it doesn’t affect the separate case of Paul Lamb, who is making his challenge on different grounds. Phil also has one more chance to appeal the decision.

Phil is seeking to change the law to allow adults of sound mind the ability to request an assisted death in circumstances where they suffer from an incurable disease which causes them unbearable suffering.

But explaining their decision, the High Court judges said that despite having sympathy for the situation in which he finds himself, the court were bound to refuse permission because of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Noel Conway’s similar 2018 case.

Phil has announced his intention to challenge this decision in the Court of Appeal – which would be his final chance to gain permission.

The news comes as Humanists UK has urged its members and supporters to write to their GPs to back assisted dying as the Royal College of General Practitioners is surveying its members on the matter.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘We are disappointed to hear that Phil Newby has been denied permission at the High Court. The right to choice and control over the manner and timing of your own death should be recognised as a fundamental human right.

‘Nearly 90% of the public now believe that adults of sound mind, who are either incurably suffering or terminally ill, deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion, and this cannot happen until we change the law. That’s why we are supporting Paul Lamb in his separate legal case to change the UK’s prohibitive assisted dying laws.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s case for the right to die.

Find out more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We recognise that any assisted dying law must contain stringent safeguards, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective.

Humanists UK advances free thinking and promotes humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Its 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 its ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, it strives to create a fair and equal society for all.

Take Action: Ask your GP to support compassion and dignity in assisted dying poll

Humanists UK is encouraging all of its members and supporters to ask their GPs to back dignity and compassion for everyone by voting in support of assisted dying in the Royal College of General Practitioners’ survey, which closes on 13 December 2019.

Earlier this year the RCGP announced that its 53,000 members across the UK would be surveyed on whether there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying. Currently, the RCGP is opposed to a change in the law.

Humanists UK actively campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying and is currently supporting Paul Lamb in his legal case. Paul, who is paralysed from the neck down, wants to be able to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing if his condition worsens. He argues that the current law – which prohibits any assistance under threat of up to 14 years’ imprisonment – breaches his human rights.

To help ensure everyone has the right to a peaceful, compassionate, and dignified death, Humanists UK is asking for our members and supporters to write to their GP and ask them to back a change in the law. 

If you are a member of the RCGP and support a right to die for those who are incurably suffering or terminally ill, we urge you to vote in support. Humanists UK has also prepared the following extra supporting information although we note it is always best to personalise responses:

The right to determine the manner and timing of one’s death is a fundamental human right, and should be available for everyone who is of sound mind and either terminally ill or incurably suffering. It is vital that all human beings are able to live their lives while maintaining their dignity, autonomy, and choice, and that is only possible if the law is changed.  

More than one person a week is now forced to travel abroad to end their lives, but many more cannot afford the journey. Now, with nearly 90% of the public supporting a change in the law to enable those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering the right to control their death, and with more countries internationally moving to humane laws, it is more important than ever for the law to be changed. A compassionate law should not privilege those with the means to travel, nor limit a peaceful death to just those likely to die within six months. It would serve to balance autonomy and dignity alongside a robust set of safeguards to protect the most vulnerable.

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at  casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s case for the right to die.

Find out more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We recognise that any assisted dying law must contain stringent safeguards, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective.

Humanists UK advances free thinking and promotes humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Its 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 its ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, it strives to create a fair and equal society for all.

Italy’s highest court decriminalises assisted dying for the incurably suffering

Italy’s constitutional court has ruled that assisting a person who is in a state of intolerable and irreversible suffering to end their life is not always a crime, in a landmark judgment that could see Italy legalise assisted dying.

The judgment, handed down yesterday, follows an appeal by right-to-die activist Marco Cappato who admitted to helping Italian celebrity, Fabiano Antoniani (known as DJ Fabio), to die in Switzerland in 2017, after he had become quadriplegic and blind from a car accident in 2014.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and incurably suffering, has welcomed the decision. Humanists UK is supporting Paul Lamb in his bid to change the law on assisted dying in the UK.

Last year, Italy’s highest court suspended judgment in Cappato’s case, and instructed Parliament to resolve the issue of assisted dying within a year. Prior to the court’s decision this week, assisted dying had been illegal and those found guilty could face between five and twelve years’ imprisonment.

In the court’s statement, it said that following the inaction of Italy’s Parliament, people should no longer always be punished for helping the ‘autonomous and freely formed [wish]’ of a patient to die, and anyone who ‘facilitates the suicidal intention… of a patient kept alive by life-support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology should not be punished under certain conditions’. These include an ‘irreversible [condition, causing] physical or psychological suffering that he [or she] considers intolerable’, and a requirement that the patient be ‘fully capable of making free and conscious decisions’.

Italy is now the sixth country where assisted dying is permitted for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, alongside countries such as Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands, and assisted dying is legal for terminally ill people in ten US jurisdictions, Colombia, and the Australian state of Victoria.

The court’s ruling will now be debated in Italy’s parliament, who have the option of introducing different legislation, and Marco Cappato is expected to be acquitted by a lower court when his sentence is later determined.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said,

‘We welcome this news as yet another example of the growing international consensus towards legalising a safeguarded right-to-die law for both those who are terminally ill and those facing incurably suffering. Nearly 90% of the public now agree that the right to choose how we die should be seen as a fundamental human right in the UK, and we are supporting Paul Lamb’s legal case to help make it a reality.

‘Just as compassion for ending the suffering of others has motivated people to support assisted dying for those who are terminally ill, so too should it for those who are incurably suffering like Paul.’

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our previous news item on Paul Lamb’s legal case.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

MPs from all parties call for assisted dying reform

Yesterday the House of Commons debated England and Wales’s law prohibiting assisted dying for the first time in over four years. MPs from all major political parties called for reform to the prohibitive law. Humanists UK welcomed MPs’ support on this important issue and also called for the law to be reformed.

Nick Boles MP, who called the debate, asked the Secretary of State for Justice to initiate a formal call for evidence on the impact of the UK’s existing law. Several All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) MPs also spoke out in favour of reform, including Chair Crispin Blunt MP, Vice Chair Jeff Smith MP, Karin Smyth MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Andy Slaughter MP, and Steve McCabe MP.

Steve McCabe, who had previously voted against changing the law, acknowledged his views on assisted dying had changed. He said:

‘Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to listen to tetraplegic Paul Lamb, who spoke at a humanist event in the House, and I was very moved by the case that this very rational and sane man made…Paul has been living with his condition for 29 years. He is in intolerable pain that can sometimes only be controlled with very strong medication, which blurs his consciousness and limits his life experiences. He wants the right to choose, if he reaches a stage where he has no quality of life.

‘We need to focus on quality of life, capacity for life and the rational, sound judgement of a person who makes such a decision. Life expectancy in itself does not tell us anything about suffering. We should be considering assisted dying both in the context of terminal illness and in the context of suffering and a lack of meaningful life. That is especially true when we are talking about progressive conditions, conditions such as locked-in syndrome or intolerable suffering.’ 

The latest pressure to review the law in England and Wales follows on from the announcement that Paul Lamb, who challenged the UK’s law on assisted dying before the Supreme Court in 2014, has now lodged papers with the High Court to bring forth a fresh legal case. Paul is being supported by Humanists UK and represented by the law firm, Leigh Day. 

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘The growing support for assisted dying amongst our elected representatives demonstrates that the tide is now turning. An increasing number of progressive countries have now legalised the right to die, prominent medical opinion has shifted, and public opinion has reached a record high level of support.

‘As politicians increasingly accept that those who are in constant and unbearable pain deserve the right to determine the manner and timing of their own death, the case for a compassionate law permitting adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or incurably suffering, the option of an assisted death continues to grow.’

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read the transcript of the debate.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Man with motor neurone disease announces intention to take right to die case

A man with motor neurone disease has announced his intention to take a legal case seeking the right to an assisted death. Humanist Phil Newby is seeking a change in the law ‘for anyone who has a progressive degenerative condition which is life-shortening’.

The news follows Humanists UK’s announcement in May that it is working with tetraplegic man Paul Lamb to bring a new assisted dying case for those who are of sound mind and are terminally ill or incurably suffering. Paul was effectively invited by the Supreme Court to bring forth a fresh case should Parliament fail to adequately resolve the issues with the law on assisted dying. Parliament did subsequently fail. Unlike those who have brought previous cases, Paul does not face any risk of losing for the same reasons that Noel Conway and Omid T lost theirs last year, namely because he cannot already end his life by removing medical assistance, such as a non-invasive ventilation, and because he does not propose to adopt a legal strategy which would necessitate cross-examining government witnesses.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘We support assisted dying for terminally ill people but also for those who are incurably suffering, which is Paul Lamb’s situation and we are continuing to champion Paul’s case. Nonetheless, any attempt to change the law in favour of assisted dying is a step in the right direction and we wish Phil the best of luck with his case.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293. To request an interview with Paul, further comment from him, or video footage, contact Humanists UK at the above number.

Read more about Paul Lamb.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

British Medical Association to poll members on assisted dying

‘The Stethoscope, Peru’, by Alex Proimos. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Creative Commons license found and verified by Wikimedia Foundation on 30 May 2012, and permanent thereafter.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union body representing over 150,000 doctors and 19,000 medical students across the UK, has voted to hold a ballot of its members on whether to change its assisted dying policy.

The BMA currently opposes changing the law on assisted dying which it adopted in 2005. However, this looks set to change after the BMA’s annual meeting today adopted a motion to survey its members. 

Dr Jacky Davis, the Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, who introduced the motion stated, ‘it is becoming clear that there is a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policy of medical organisations needs to reflect that. Politicians and patients want to know what doctors think on this issue and we need all views to be heard. Our patients have wanted this choice for decades and we should be pleased that doctors are prepared to engage in the debate.’

This poll follows an announcement by the Royal College of General Practitioners last week, that it will conduct its own survey of its members, and the Royal College of Physicians’ historical dropping of its opposition to assisted dying earlier this year. It has now adopted a neutral position. 

A recent poll by My Death, My Decision, a partner of Humanists UK in the Assisted Dying Coalition, showed that more than 90% of the UK public now supports assisted dying for certain groups of people, reflecting a growing trend of support for assisted dying across the board.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘We welcome the news that the British Medical Association is holding a survey of its members with a view to changing its hostile position. We believe terminally ill or incurably suffering individuals who are of sound mind should be empowered to make their own free and informed choices about their options in dying. It is only by giving them this choice that we can guarantee they have dignity, autonomy, and choice in when and how they die.’

‘The medical profession is an important ally in the campaign for dignity at the end of life and it is positive to see it responding to the changes in public opinion in this area, which is overwhelmingly supportive of assisted dying reform.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk  or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s case for the right to die.

Find out more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We recognise that any assisted dying law must contain stringent safeguards, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Justice Secretary David Gauke signals personal support for assisted dying reforms

Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor David Gauke has signalled his personal support for reform of the UK’s assisted dying laws, adding that he is in ‘favour of reforms in this area’.

His comments, which appeared in the print version of The Express yesterday, are the first time such a senior Government minister has come out in support of assisted dying. It is also notable as Mr Gauke is currently considering a challenge from Paul Lamb, who Humanists UK is supporting in his fresh bid to change the law on assisted dying.

Mr Gauke’s personal support for assisted dying was revealed when he responded to a plea by a terminally ill man, Geoffrey Whaley. Mr Whaley wrote to the Justice Secretary before he died in Switzerland in February.

In his response yesterday, David Gauke wrote:

‘Personally I am in favour of reform in this area, and sympathise with calls to allow individuals choice over how to end their lives without fear of criminal prosecution, for themselves or those close to them.”

‘Whilst Parliament has so far voted against any relaxation of the law, I hope that assisted dying is an issue to which it will return.

‘In the meantime, I assure you that I and others do hear Mr Whaley’s plea.’

Paul Lamb, paralysed from the neck down, wrote to Mr Gauke on 3 May asking for him to make clear the Government’s plans to look into assisted dying.  If a satisfactory response is not received from the government to Paul’s letter, Paul intends to apply to the court to seek a judicial review of the current legislation. Paul argues that the law should be changed to allow assisted dying to be legal for those in his position and the terminally ill.

Responding to the Lord Chancellor’s comments on assisted dying, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘I hope that the rationality and compassion of David Gauke finds more and more support among his fellow parliamentarians. They have it in their power to give people like Paul the dignity of a choice to end their suffering and they should grasp the nettle. Their inaction is a moral stain on our nation.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Find out about Paul Lamb’s new legal bid: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/05/07/paul-lamb-to-bring-new-legal-case-for-the-right-to-die/

Read more about Paul Lamb: https://humanism.org.uk/about/our-people/patrons/paul-lamb/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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