New case to test rules on assisted dying in UK

19 August, 2011

A man who is almost completely paralysed and has repeatedly expressed his wish to die has launched a new challenge which has the potential to change the law on assisted dying in the UK. Commenting, the British Humanist Association (BHA) said that this latest challenge exposes the need for a reform in the law to make it ethical, sensible and humane.

‘Martin’ is seeking action to establish whether professionals, such as lawyers or medical staff, would be prosecuted if they were to either help him to travel abroad for an assisted death in a jurisdiction which is legal or to assist him by easing his death if he chose to stop eating or drinking. Guidelines published by the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 2010 attempted to do in part what the law does not – to distinguish between where a person has compassionately assisted another to die and where, rather, it was done with malicious intent or murder. It is unlikely that a person would be prosecuted if she could prove that she had been purely motivated by compassion when assisting another to die. However, the case is not at all clear for professionals who take part in some way to assist a death.

The BHA’s Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘Recent years have seen some of the most compelling challenges to the law and policy on assisted dying in the UK and, if successful, this case could be key in affecting some change in this area. Cases such as these highlight the inconsistencies and complexities of the justice system in this area. It is our position that law itself is in need of extensive reform and that assisted dying should be legalised and accompanied by strict safeguards to protect vulnerable people. We need a law on assisted dying that is sensible, ethical, forward-thinking and which upholds people’s fundamental human right to die with dignity and in a manner of their choosing.’


For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585.

Read more about our work on assisted dying

The BHA recently gave oral and written evidence to the Commission on Assisted Dying.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.