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Doctors vote to end assisted dying opposition in landmark BMA survey

The British Medical Association (BMA) looks like it must end its policy of opposing assisted dying, according to Humanists UK, after 50% of members said they support changing the law to allow terminally ill and incurably suffering adults the option of a legal assisted death. The results come in a landmark members’ survey, where just 39% took the opposite view. 40% said the BMA itself should actively support such a change in the law, with just 33% opposed, and 21% neutral – meaning a clear majority want the BMA to change its current policy of opposition. Humanists UK has strongly welcomed the findings as possibly one of the most significant steps towards a change in the law.

Since 2006 the BMA, which represents more than 150,000 doctors and 19,000 medical students, has opposed assisted dying. However, in one of the UK’s largest surveys of medical opinion ever carried out on assisted dying, doctors have strongly indicated they want change. The survey also found that more than 10,000 doctors would be willing to actively participate if the law was changed. The BMA is now expected to review its stance on assisted dying at its next policy-making meeting in June 2021. In Humanists UK’s view, it seems that the policy of opposition must now end.

The momentous results come amid growing support for assisted dying internationally, as yesterday Ireland’s Parliament voted to move forward on proposals to legalise assisted dying, and a national referendum on assisted dying is scheduled in New Zealand later this month.

Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: 

‘We are delighted by the outcome of this survey, as it marks a potential turning point in the fight for terminally ill and incurably suffering people’s right to a legal, safe, and compassionate assisted death. Following this survey, the emphatic view of doctors to respect their patients’ rights to choose how, where, and when they want to die can no longer be in any doubt.

‘The option of an assisted death is now available for more than 150 million people around the world. Public opinion has reached a record high of nearly 90% supporting a change in the law, and the number of people forced to travel to Switzerland has increased by six-fold in the last two decades. We urge the BMA to take notice of the clear signal its members have sent today by casting the most votes in support of legal assisted dying, by dropping its hostile stance which no longer reflects the views of its members, representatives, or society at large.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

More about the BMA’s consultation

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of 160,000 doctors in the UK. In 2019, at the BMA’s main policymaking meeting members voted for a motion to survey members on whether the association should adopt a neutral position on assisted dying.

The BMA’s consultation ran between 6-27 February and was organised by the independent organisation Kantar. 28,986 members of the BMA took part in the consultation (20% of all members invited to participate).

Members were asked whether they believe the BMA should actively support, actively oppose, or neither actively support nor actively oppose (i.e. take a neutral stance on) a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to self-administer to end their own life. ‘Four in ten (40%) surveyed members expressed the view that the British Medical Association (BMA) should actively support attempts to change the law, one in three (33%) favoured opposition, and one in five (21%) felt the BMA should adopt a neutral position, neither actively supporting nor actively opposing attempts to change the law to permit doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs.’ This means a majority opted for an end to the current policy of opposition, and a move to at least neutrality, on a position that would match the law in Switzerland. Further, ‘Half (50%) of surveyed members personally believed that there should be a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs. Four in ten (39%) were opposed, with a further one in ten (11%) undecided.’

In terms of allowing doctors to administer the drugs, ‘Four in ten (40%) surveyed members expressed the view that the BMA should actively oppose attempts to change the law to permit doctors to administer life-ending drugs. Three in ten (30%) favoured support, and 23% felt the BMA should adopt a neutral stance of neither actively supporting nor actively opposing attempts to change the law.’ This again represents a majority opting for an end to the current policy of opposition, and a move to at least neutrality.

Read the BMA’s full results.

More about assisted dying

Under section 2(1) and 2(2A) of the 1961 Suicide Act, it is unlawful in England and Wales to encourage or assist someone to end their life. Anyone found guilty of an act ‘capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another’ can face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Assisted dying is now permitted for terminally ill and incurably suffering people in Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. It is also permitted specifically for terminally ill people in Colombia, ten US jurisdictions, and the Australian state of Victoria and will soon become legal in Western Australia.

Read more about our campaign for legal assisted dying.

Read more about how nearly 90% of the public support support assisted dying reform.

Read more about research which found that more than one British citizen a week now ends their life in Switzerland.

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 GPs threatened with legal action over hostile assisted dying stance

Two GPs have threatened the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) with legal action after it decided earlier this year to remain opposed to assisted dying, despite a majority of GPs in a prior consultation wanting it to move to be neutral or supportive. Humanists UK, which campaigns to legalise assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, has welcomed the announcement.

In February, the RCGP announced that it would retain its longstanding opposition to assisted dying, after a plurality of its members voted to maintain their hostile stance. At the time, Humanists UK raised concerns about the fairness of the RCGP’s decision, as a majority of GPs voted for the RCGP to adopt either a neutral or supportive stance.

In a letter to the RCGP’s Board of Trustees, two distinguished medics, Professor Aneez Esmail and Sir Sam Everington, have now set out similar concerns and warned that the RCGP may have acted unlawfully. In their statement, which has been supported by the Good Law Project and Dignity in Dying, they cite concerns about the transparency of the RCGP’s decision-making and have asked for the minutes explaining the RCGP’s decision to be released.

The news was released alongside a new survey of 1,000 GPs, carried out by medeConnect, that found that just 35% now support the RCGP’s stance. The  British Medical Association is expected to publish the results of a similar membership survey next year.

Responding to the news, Humanist UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘By choosing to remain opposed to assisted dying, despite the clear preference of GPs to adopt a neutral or supportive stance, the RCGP raised real concerns about the integrity of its decision making process. We therefore welcome this move to challenge that decision.

‘This polling in support of assisted dying reflects a wider trend across our country, as nearly 90% of British adults now support legal, safe, and compassionate assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering. Given the significant shift in both public and medical opinion, a review into existing law banning assisted dying is now long-overdue’.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about the case: https://www.bindmans.com/news/two-gps-raise-legal-concerns-with-royal-college-of-gps-regarding-opposition-to-assisted-dying

Read our previous news item announcing the RCGP consultation and BMA consultation.

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.

Past right-to-die legal claimants and their families join forces to call for assisted dying inquiry

Tony and Jane Nicklinson. Photo courtesy of Jane Nicklinson.

The families and living claimants of most of the previous assisted dying legal cases have come together for the first time, to urge the UK Secretary of State for Justice to instigate a review into assisted dying or call on the UK Parliament to conduct one, in an open letter published today.

The letter, which includes signatories from Debbie Purdy’s widower Omar Puente, Tony Nicklinson’s wife Jane Nicklinson, the mother of Omid T, and latest assisted dying claimant Phil Newby, highlights that the evidence in favour of assisted dying has significantly changed since Parliament last debated legal reform, and that public opinion has dramatically shifted in support of a new law.

The letter was organised by Humanists UK, which campaigns to legalise assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering, and appears in The Guardian today, following the eighth anniversary of humanist and right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson’s death. After his death Tony’s case was taken over by his widow Jane and by fellow campaigner Paul Lamb, and went to the Supreme Court.

Sign our petition to the Justice Secretary calling for a public inquiry

The letter is below, as published in The Guardian:

We represent the families and living claimants of most of the previous assisted dying legal cases. We have come together, for the first time, because we now believe there is an overwhelming case to set up an inquiry into the law.

It has now been half a decade since Parliament last examined legislation to legalise assisted dying, and fifteen years since it formally scrutinised the evidence. In that time, the number of Britons travelling to Switzerland had rocketed sixfold; successive countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, and parts of the United States and Australia have legalised assisted dying, demonstrating that such changes can be achieved in a safe and compassionate way; public opinion has dramatically risen to nearly 90% supporting a change in the law for the terminally ill and incurably suffering; and there has been a significant shift in medical opinion and from within the disability community.

Following our unsuccessful legal cases, it is now obvious that parliamentarians alone have a responsibility to look at this matter again. They must not allow our cases to become the final word on the matter, or else countless others will experience the indignity, suffering, and agony that we can attest that this law creates.

The evidence on assisted dying has simply changed, and Parliament cannot afford to turn a blind eye any longer.

Humanist UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘The signatories to this letter are uniting to call for a review into one of the most morally unjust laws in our country. For too long some politicians’ aversion to talking about the merits of a dignified death have forced people to suffer in silence. But now, after more than fifteen years since the last serious parliamentary scrutiny, and an overwhelming change in evidence in the interim, it is time for the voices of those facing a terminal illness or incurable suffering to be heard.

‘The case for an inquiry into assisted dying is underpinned by a simple but undeniable logic – when the facts change, so must our understanding. We welcome this initiative as a means of equipping Parliament with the information it needs to conduct an informed debate, and hope it will spur the Justice Secretary to launch an inquiry that is now long overdue.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Keiron McCabe at keiron@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3001.

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.

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.

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