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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 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.

Paul Lamb to bring new legal case for the right to die

Paul Lamb, paralysed from the neck down, is bringing a new legal case against the Secretary of State for Justice, challenging the law on assisted dying in the UK. He is being supported by Humanists UK and represented by law firm, Leigh Day.

Paul, 63, was severely injured in a car accident in 1990 and has no function below his neck apart from limited movement in his right hand. He requires around the clock care and lives in constant pain.

Paul knows, as he gets older, he will inevitably want assistance to die. Paul wants to be able to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing. He argues that the current law – which prohibits any assistance under threat of up to fourteen years’ imprisonment – breaches his human right to a private life.

Alongside Jane Nicklinson, the widow of locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb previously challenged the UK’s 1961 Suicide Act in a case to the Supreme Court in 2014, and the European Court of Human Rights in 2015. With a notable dissent from the now President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, the Supreme Court held that Parliament must be afforded an opportunity to debate the issue before the courts decide whether to declare the current law incompatible with Paul’s human rights and those who find themselves in a similar position.

In 2015, the House of Commons debated but rejected a proposal from Rob Marris MP, which would have legalised assisted dying for those who are likely to die within six months, by 330 votes to 118.

In a letter sent to Justice Secretary David Gauke MP on 3 May 2019, Paul argues that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 8. Article 14 provides a qualified right not to be discriminated against on the ground of disability in respect of the enjoyment of other Convention rights. Article 8 encompasses the right to decide how and when to die, and in particular, the right to avoid a distressing and undignified end to life provided that the decision is made freely.

In the letter before action Mr Lamb asks the Secretary of State to ‘concede that sections 2(1), 2A(1) and 2B of the Suicide Act are incompatible with Articles 8 and 14… and undertake to take timely steps to remedy the incompatibility, either by employing the remedial power provided by section 10(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 or by introducing and promoting an appropriate bill in Parliament.’

If a satisfactory response is not received from the government, 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.

Assisted dying is now legal in this form in five countries, most recently Canada, and is also legal for terminally ill people specifically in one country, nine US jurisdictions, and soon to be in the Australian state of Victoria.

Commenting on his decision Paul Lamb said:

‘I am paralysed from the neck down and live in a state of constant pain. In the future my suffering will inevitably become too much to bear. When that happens, I want to be able to control and choose the circumstances of my death. As the law stands, my only option would be to die through the inhumane process of dehydration and starvation. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

‘Five years ago, I asked our courts to give me the right to control my own death and they told me to wait. Since then I have watched and waited as new evidence has emerged and progressive countries have given millions of others the choice I have asked for. And still the UK Parliament has done nothing. I have no option but to ask the Court to intervene again. I need them to help me, and many others in my position, to end this cruel and discriminatory law.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘It is a national disgrace that too many politicians have allowed themselves to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those like Paul for so long and instead rely upon our courts.

‘The right to die in a manner and timing of your own choice is a fundamental human right, which the UK has neglected for too long. It should not depend upon your ability to afford travel to Switzerland, nor force families into a heart-wrenching dilemma between letting their loved ones suffer, or supporting them and risking criminal investigation.

‘We are delighted by the news that Paul intends to bring this landmark case and challenge such a heartless law. Paul’s case seeks a more compassionate law, as it will give those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering the dignity they deserve. We will back him at every stage.’

Rosa Curling, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day who is representing Paul, said:

‘For many years, our client has patiently waited for Parliament to address the issue of whether section 2 of the Suicide Act should be relaxed or modified. But the pain and suffering he experiences, on a daily basis, means he cannot wait any longer. He believes the time is now right for the courts to intervene and declare section 2 incompatible with Articles 8 and 14 of European Convention on Human Rights because it unlawfully discriminates against seriously disabled people who wish to end their lives.’

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.

The case will be between Paul Lamb and the Secretary of State for Justice. Paul has written to the Secretary of State under the pre-action protocol. Assuming the Secretary of State does not provide him with a satisfactory response (see above), papers may be issued asking the courts to decide whether the case should be given permission to proceed.

Paul Lamb is represented by Rosa Curling of Leigh Day, Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office, Adam Sandell of Matrix Chambers, and Eesvan Krishnan of Blackstone Chambers. Ms Curling, Mr Havers, and Mr Sandell previously acted for the claimant known as ‘Martin’ during the 2014 Supreme Court case.

Paul Lamb’s case is different from a case brought by humanist Noel Conway in 2018, supported by Dignity in Dying. Noel was only seeking a change in the law, which would have enabled those who were likely to die within six months, assistance to die. Unlike Mr Conway, Paul Lamb does not require a non-invasive ventilator, the presence of which we understand is one of the reasons why Noel was refused permission to have his case heard by the Supreme Court.

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

New figures released by the Assisted Dying Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a member, found that more than one British person a week now travels to Switzerland to end their life.

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.

Royal College of Physicians moves from hostile to neutral position on assisted dying

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it has adopted a neutral position on assisted dying for terminally ill people of sound mind, after a clear majority of respondents to its survey either supported or were neutral towards such a move. Humanists UK supports assisted dying for terminally ill and incurably suffering individuals who are of sound mind. It warmly welcomes this move, and the wider shift in medical opinion regarding assisted dying.

The RCP survey revealed a leap in support for a change in the law on assisted dying as the number of respondents wanting the RCP to support a change in the law increased by over a quarter, from 24.6% in 2014, when doctors were previously surveyed about assisted dying, to 31.6% in 2019.

Together, the number of respondents who want the RCP to support or be neutral (25%) towards a change in the law totals 56.6%, a majority of all respondents.

The survey also shows growing support for assisted dying among physicians as the number of respondents who personally supported a change in the law increased by a quarter, from 32.3% in 2014 to 40.5% in 2019.

Humanists UK called on RCP members to respond in support of assisted dying and advised members how to respond to the survey.

A legal challenge headed up by doctors opposed to assisted dying was also today rejected by the High Court.

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 Royal College of Physicians has adopted a neutral position on assisted dying for terminally ill people. 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.

‘We hope to see medical organisations take note of this and similarly conduct their own surveys to best reflect the views of the medical community.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07815589636.

The RCP poll took place from 5 February and 1 March and was responded to by 6,886 members and fellows. The poll required a supermajority of 60% to either support or oppose a change in the law.

Read our previous news item on the RCP poll here:

https://humanism.org.uk/2019/02/21/humanists-uk-calls-on-royal-college-of-physicians-members-to-consider-dignity-compassion-in-assisted-dying-survey/

For more information on our work on assisted dying visit:

https://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 welcome Jersey Government’s move to look into assisted dying

Noirmont Point Lighthouse, St. Aubin`s Bay, Jersey

Channel Islands Humanists and Humanists UK have welcomed a decision by the Council of Ministers to commission detailed research into end-of-life choices in Jersey.

The research will look into the options of assisted dying and will cover issues associated with protection for patients and ethical codes of conduct.

The decision yesterday came about following a petition in favour of a change in law, launched by End of Life Choices Jersey. Last week the group co-founded the Assisted Dying Coalition alongside Humanists UK.

In announcing the review, Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf said that the ‘shared values of care, freedom of choice and compassion’ must underpin the review.

The announcement was welcomed by Channel Islands Humanists which campaigns for assisted dying across Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark.

Channel Islands Humanists Chair Dave Crocker said:

‘It is welcome news that the Government is to look into assisted dying in Jersey as this is an extremely important issue for locals.

‘It is vital that dignity, autonomy, and freedom of choice are maintained throughout our lives, and for many this can only be possible by changing the law to allow assisted dying for those who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering. As the Jersey Government will no doubt discover, evidence from other jurisdictions shows that such a change in the law is possible whilst having safeguards that protect anyone from being coerced into ending their life who does not wish to.’

Other members of the Assisted Dying Coalition are Friends at the End, Humanist Society Scotland, and My Death, My Decision.

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 the Jersey Council of Ministers’ announcement: https://www.gov.je/News/2019/Pages/AssistedDying.aspx

For more information on Channel Islands Humanists, visit https://humanism.org.uk/channel-islands/

For information about the Assisted Dying Coalition, visit http://assisteddying.org.uk/about/

For more information on Humanists UK’s campaign on assisted dying, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

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.

UK’s first Assisted Dying Coalition formed to campaign for millions who want right to die

The first-ever national coalition for assisted dying, made up of a cross-section of campaigners including doctors and nurses, has formed to push for the legalisation of assisted dying for the millions of citizens in the UK and crown dependencies who want the right to choose.

The Assisted Dying Coalition will campaign for the legal recognition of the right to die for individuals who have a clear and settled wish to end their life and who are terminally ill or incurably suffering.

The Coalition is made up of six organisations: End of Life Choices Jersey, Friends at the End, Humanist Society Scotland, Humanists UK, and My Death, My Decision.

The Coalition’s launch today coincides with the release of new figures that show that since the UK Parliament last considered assisted dying laws in 2015, more than one citizen per week (233 people), were forced to make the heartbreaking journey to travel to Switzerland to end their life. The Coalition says thousands more that might want an assisted death don’t have the financial or physical means to travel to Switzerland.

The figures also reveal that almost 1,500 UK citizens have a paid membership with an assisted dying organisation in Switzerland, highlighting the growing desperation of many looking to foreign countries to give them peace of mind because the UK denies them choice. It costs on average £10,000 per person to access the services of a Swiss clinic.

The group is also backed by activist Paul Lamb. Paul, who is paralysed from the neck down, took his right to die case to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights after Tony and Jane Nicklinson’s case failed.

Launching the coalition, the group’s Chair Carrie Hynds, a long-time assisted dying campaigner and Director of My Death, My Decision, said the issue could no longer be seen as ‘too ethically complex’ for Government as 80% of the UK public now supported legalising assisted dying.

Assisted Dying Coalition Chair Carrie Hynds said: ‘It is disgraceful that in the last few years alone, 233 people have been forced to make that agonising journey abroad, far from their family and friends, to have an assisted death. The various legislatures in these isles might want to wait, but it is too late for those who have already faced this injustice.

‘As a Coalition, we will be working to ensure that people have the individual autonomy to make their own decisions about their end of life choices. Several countries including Canada, Luxembourg, and Switzerland all have assisted dying laws in place which give dignity to people in dying. The UK and crown dependencies must follow in the footsteps of these countries while also implementing strong legal safeguards that protect all individuals.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘Politicians and governments cannot simply leave the issue of assisted dying in the “too-hard” category. Many people want the peace of mind that if they get to a point where they are terminally ill or incurably suffering, they will have the right to make their own choices about their death. This is a fundamental human right and this fact should trump any political, religious, or other motives.’

Assisted dying campaigner Paul Lamb, and supporter of the Coalition, said: ‘I’ve tried time and time again to get the UK Parliament to listen to me but they won’t. Animals have more rights than humans in this debate which is completely unthinkable in the modern day when individual rights in other aspects of life have progressed so much. I endorse the Coalition’s work and hope they can give a voice to people who have felt voiceless for too long.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Gordon MacRae said: ‘We believe it is important that everyone should have the right to control their own bodies and ultimately their own options in dying. There is still an important human rights dilemma in the current legal framework across all parts of the UK including Scotland, about how individuals who are terminally ill or intolerably suffering have their rights and choices restricted.’

Phil Cheatle, MDMD’s campaign policy director said:  It is simply not acceptable for doctors to defer the decision on assisted dying to politicians, only for politicians to reject it, at least in part, because “doctors don’t support it”. The ADC will be pressing for a more joined up response. Medical organisations and politicians must work together to respond to the public clamour for more compassionate, dignified end of life options, which includes medical assistance to die when there are no acceptable alternatives.

Friends at the End Chief Executive Amanda Ward said: ‘Assisted dying is an issue which is not going to go away, there is clear support from the general public for choice at the end of life. This is an issue which politicians need to show leadership on and recognise that it is not acceptable or sustainable to continue to ship the issue abroad, leave people to take their lives alone or to suffer in intolerable pain.

End of Life Choices Jersey Deputy Coordinator Michael Tailbard said: ‘It matters how we end our lives, and we need to be empowered to make our own choices about it. For some, the last phase of life is not just disappointing, but truly unbearable — unbearable through pain, or loss of dignity, or whatever else. For those people, any caring society would offer help to die decently, in a manner of their own choosing.’

The new push for legalising assisted dying comes at a crucial time, after the announcement by the Royal College of Physicians that it will consult its members on the issue, and two recent high-profile public cases. The first case was that of Noel Conway, a Humanists UK member, who suffers from motor neurone disease, who recently lost an application to appeal at the Supreme Court despite his lawyers arguing that it was a breach of his human rights to deny him an assisted death. Mr Conway says his only option now will be to remove his ventilator and suffocate to death. The other was Omid T, a Humanists UK member, who died at the Lifecircle clinic in Switzerland in October 2018 after a long battle with multiple system atrophy. His dying wish was to bring about assisted dying reform in the UK.

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.

For a copy of our statistics briefing notes, click here.

For information about the Assisted Dying Coalition, visit http://assisteddying.org.uk/about/

About the member organisations

End of Life Choices Jersey

End of Life Choices Jersey is a campaign group working to empower mentally competent adults with incurable health problems which result in their perceived quality of life falling permanently below the level they are able to accept, provided this is their own permanent request, the option of an assisted death. They campaign to change the law on assisted dying, and to encourage a wider conversation about the use of advance decisions.

Friends at the End

Friends at the End (FATE) is a leading campaign group in Scotland, working towards a change in the law to allow assisted dying. For over 17 years, it has worked to promote knowledge about end of life choices and campaigned for better end-of-life care for everyone.

Humanist Society Scotland

Humanist Society Scotland is part of the wider humanist movement, with a clear vision for a secular Scotland. They work to further ethical and moral outcomes based on compassion, knowledge and reason.

Humanists UK

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. 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.

My Death, My Decision

My Death, My Decision (MDMD) is a right to die organisation which wants to see a more compassionate approach to dying in the UK. It campaigns for a change in UK law to allow medical assistance to die to be given to mentally competent adults, with incurable health problems that result in their perceived quality of life falling permanently below the level they are able to accept, providing this is their own persistent request.

Humanists UK mourns philosopher Michael Clark

The staff and trustees of Humanists UK are sad to note the death of humanist moral philosopher and logician Michael Clark, who ended his life at Dignitas in Switzerland on 23 January 2019. He was a longtime member of Humanists UK and its Humanist Philosophers Group, contributing to many of its publications over the years.

Michael first began a life-long love affair with philosophy while at school, and in 1962 he won a place to study Philosophy and Psychology at Exeter College, Oxford. His promise as a philosopher was on display even then: he was the recipient the prestigious Open Scholarship, a generous bursary available only to the brightest students. It was there at Oxford that he developed a rewarding fascination with the pursuit of formal logic. This interest propelled a long academic career that spanned the universities of Aberdeen, Manchester, New Orleans, and Nottingham. Having become one of the UK’s most distinguished philosophers, Michael was named Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, which had awarded him his D.Litt in 2014. Since 2000, he had been editor of the leading philosophy journal Analysis.

Michael was a supporter of Humanists UK’s work, including its long-running campaign for the right to die for people with incurable and terminal illnesses, but his interests extended far wider than that. He was particularly invested in education policy, seeing the UK’s discriminatory and sectarian schooling system as detrimental to social cohesion. He was also very concerned with developing public understanding of humanism.

Before his illness advanced, Michael was out campaigning for a fairer society with Humanists UK as recently as 2014. He was among the long list of distinguished philosophers, academics, and religious leaders who united in urging Schools Minister Nick Gibb to provide equal status for humanism in the Religious Studies curriculum for England. In 2007, he worked alongside humanist philosopher Professor Richard Norman and others to produce The Case for Secularism, a publication of the Humanist Philosophers Group which intended to ‘dispel the myth… that secularism springs from anti-religious feeling, or that it is only humanists who are in favour of secularism.’

Michael’s investment in humanism reflected a commitment across his life to inclusive civic spaces that brought people from different backgrounds together. It was this aspect of his character that drew him, time and again, back to questions of moral philosophy and the philosophy of law: enterprises at once concerned with the social fabric that exists between people, and the ways in which governments and courts help to both provide for and shape just and fair societies.

His colleague and friend Dr Peter Cave, chair of the Humanist Philosophers Group, paid tribute to Michael’s life, saying:

‘Michael was a distinguished philosopher, specialising in logic, law and paradoxes.  He was a strong supporter of Humanists UK, the legalization of assisted dying – and jazz. He thought it was appalling that, with regard to the United Kingdom, when suffering and needing to bring an end to your life in a reasonable manner, you required the knowledge, financial resources and physical ability to travel abroad to a country with a more civilized and respectful understanding of how some people have had enough.

‘Michael was a close friend of mine.  He and I would sometimes reflect on a comment by an early twentieth-century Cambridge philosopher, C D Broad.  Broad, always interested in the possibility of an afterlife, would say, “All we can do is wait and see. Or wait and don’t see.”  

‘Michael, being a man of reason – as well as a philosopher – was convinced that, on death, it was the latter: we wait – and don’t see.’

His friend and fellow philosopher Dr Nigel Warburton added:

‘He was a kind and modest man, with a brilliant mind, a keen sense of justice, a deep knowledge of philosophy, and a commitment to humanist values.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Humanism was enriched by Michael’s contributions and our organisation owes him an enormous debt. It is a tragedy that he was forced to end his life in another country, at great expense, and not at home with his family and loved ones. We will continue to honour his legacy by campaigning for a humane right to die law in the UK, which allows people in Michael’s situation to die with dignity at a time of their choosing.’

Notes

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.

The Humanist Philosophers Group is part of Humanists UK, and exists to promote a critical and rational approach to public ethical issues. Its members have been heavily involved in Humanists UK’s recent legal work on abortion rights and the right to die. Members include many of the UK’s most eminent moral and analytical philosophers, including Louise Anthony, Julian Baggini, Simon Blackburn, Steve Burwood, Peter Cave, Jonathan Derbyshire, Simon Glendinning, AC Grayling, John Harris, Alan Haworth, Brendan Larvor, Sandra Marshall, Sheila Mclean, Peter Millican, David Papineau, Janet Radcliffe Richards, Ben Rogers, Peter Simons, Raymond Tallis, Nigel Warburton, Patricia White, and John White.

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

Assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway refused Supreme Court hearing

Humanist and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway.

Assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway, who has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and has been pushing for a change in the law to allow assisted dying in the UK, has today been refused permission to take his case to the Supreme Court.

Noel, a 67-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury and a member of Humanists UK, suffers from terminal MND. Noel wants the right to die if his condition worsens to the point that he has six months or fewer to live.

However, the Court concluded that there was not a strong enough prospect of the case succeeding to proceed to full hearing.

Humanists UK intervened in Noel’s case at the High Court and Court of Appeal, and would have sought to do so at the Supreme Court too. It campaigns to legalise assisted dying across the UK for people who are terminally ill or incurably suffering and who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives.

Following the decision, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘It is extremely disappointing that the Supreme Court has refused Noel Conway permission to have his case heard. Citizens who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should be able to die with dignity at a time and manner of their choosing and the Court’s decision robs Noel of the chance to challenge this most pernicious of laws.

‘We will continue to campaign for this most fundamental of human rights to be recognised and protected in UK law.’

Nancy Collins, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented Humanists UK in this case, said: ‘We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant Mr Conway permission to be heard before the Supreme Court. We continue to represent Humanists UK who have long campaigned for the right to assisted dying, and whose campaigning will continue.

‘We believe that the right of terminally ill to choose how and when to die, is a fundamental right that should now be recognised and protected by the law.’

The Supreme Court has today published its order refusing Mr Conway permission to appeal along with reasons for the decision. The written reasons do not set out weights the judges gave to different factors in concluding that permission should be refused. In particular, one part of the document (paragraph 3 of the reasons) might be construed as to suggest that refusal was in part due to the nature of Mr Conway’s condition. The judges wrote that Noel could refuse consent to continue his non-invasive ventilation, whilst being simultaneously sedated.

The judges seemed to suggest that they think that such an approach could bring about a quick and painless death. A similar route would not be open to some other classes of claimant, for example Tony Nicklinson or Paul Lamb, who brought a previous case on the matter and are not terminally ill but are incurably suffering. However, whether this factor was decisive, and means that Tony or Paul could succeed where Noel has not, is at present unknown.

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.

Humanists UK is represented by Nancy Collins from Hodge Jones & Allen LLP and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall of Doughty Street Chambers.

Read the Supreme Court’s decision: https://www.supremecourt.uk/docs/r-on-the-application-of-conway-v-secretary-of-state-for-justice-court-order.pdf

Read our previous news item on Noel Conway’s case: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/11/22/assisted-dying-campaigner-takes-case-to-the-highest-court-in-uk/

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.

Assisted dying campaigner takes case to the highest court in UK

Humanist and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway

Assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway, who has motor neurone disease (MND) and wants a change in the law to allow assisted dying in the UK, has taken his case to the Supreme Court today.

Noel, a 67-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury and a member of Humanists UK, suffers from terminal MND. Noel is campaigning to change the law and wants the right to die if his condition worsens to the point that he has six months or fewer to live. The permission hearing for his case was held at the Supreme Court and Noel is now awaiting the outcome of the decision.

Humanists UK, which is supporting Noel’s legal bid, will apply to intervene in the upcoming case if the court grants permission, as it did at the High Court and Court of Appeal. Humanists UK campaigns to legalise assisted dying across the UK for people who are terminally ill or incurably suffering and who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives.

Lawyers acting for Noel have argued that the current law is an intrusion into Mr Conway’s right to privacy and therefore incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

MND is a progressively degenerative condition in which a person’s muscles weaken and they struggle to grip, walk, speak, swallow, or breathe. Noel himself is currently dependent on a ventilator to breathe for nearly 20 hours a day.

The case comes almost two months after the death of Omid T, a Humanists UK member who was forced to travel to Switzerland to die with dignity while awaiting his High Court case.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘Noel hopes to establish that all people who are terminally ill must be able to make their own choices about how they want to die and to have these choices protected by law. We are proud to support Noel’s case.

‘In any assisted dying law there must be strict legal safeguards in place but being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing, must be understood to be a fundamental human right.’

Nancy Collins, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents Humanists UK, said: ‘We welcome today’s permission hearing by the Supreme Court. We hope that permission will be granted and that the Court will swiftly consider Mr Conway’s case that he should be allowed to choose the manner and timing of his death. We continue to represent Humanists UK who have long campaigned for the right to assisted dying.

‘We hope that the Supreme Court will make a positive finding in support of Mr Conway and the proposed scheme for assisted dying so that terminally ill people are able to choose how and when to die, where they wish to do so. We believe that this is a fundamental right that should now be recognised and protected by the law.’

Noel Conway is being supported by campaign group Dignity in 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.

Humanists UK is represented by Nancy Collins from Hodge Jones & Allen LLP and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall of Doughty Street Chambers.

Read more about Noel Conway’s case in our previous news item here: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/04/26/humanists-uk-to-intervene-in-conway-assisted-dying-case-at-court-of-appeal/

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

Read more about the case of Omid T which Humanists UK also supported: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/10/04/humanists-uk-mourns-death-of-assisted-dying-campaigner-omid-t-who-has-died-in-switzerland/

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 mourns death of assisted dying campaigner Omid T who has died in Switzerland

Humanists UK member Omid T, who was awaiting judgement from the High Court on his legal case seeking to change the law on assisted dying, has died this morning at the assisted dying clinic Lifecircle in Switzerland, Humanists UK has announced.

Omid had multiple system atrophy (MSA) and Humanists UK has been supporting his legal case.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of our member Omid T, who ended his life with medical assistance at Lifecircle in Switzerland today.

‘It is a tragedy, and also a national scandal, that Omid had to go to Switzerland to die with dignity. His desire was for a peaceful ending to his life here in England and his case underscores the need for our Parliament to allow people in his position the dignity of choice in their own country.

‘While not terminally ill, Omid was suffering immensely from his condition. He was bedridden, unable to move without assistance, in pain every day and found his life intolerable.

‘Of course, in any assisted dying law there must be strict legal safeguards in place. But being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must also be understood to be a fundamental human right. Omid’s fight to change the law and claim that right for all of us will be his enduring legacy.

‘Omid was a passionate humanist and lived his own life to its fullest. Our deepest condolences are with his family, friends, and everyone else who was touched by his life.’

Update: On 9 October 2018, five days after Omid died at the Lifecircle clinic in Switzerland, the High Court ruled against Omid’s legal team in a preliminary matter to his challenge to the assisted dying law. His team had argued that they wanted to be able to cross-examine expert witnesses at the hearing but it was determined that they could not. How his case proceeds from here remains to be seen.

In handing down its decision, the court expressed sympathy and sadness for Omid’s case.

Omid’s story

When Omid first announced his case he told his story as follows:

‘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 Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Details of the case

Omid has been 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. Humanists UK was intending to intervene in his case, working with Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.

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 did 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.

Omid had a preliminary hearing on some aspects of his case before the High Court earlier this year. A judgment on that preliminary hearing is expected shortly.

Read our previous news statement on Omid T’s case at: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/omid-granted-permission-to-challenge-illegality-of-assisted-dying/

Omid T was represented by Bindmans LLP. Read its statement: https://www.bindmans.com/news/omid-t

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.

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