BHA welcomes DPP clarification of guidelines around assisted dying but call for urgent action from government as new research shows more than 300 terminally ill people a year commit suicide

17 October, 2014

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has further clarified assisted suicide guidelines following a Supreme Court ruling in the ‘Martin’ case which the British Humanist Association (BHA) intervened in support of. Doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives are less likely to face criminal charges. The BHA has welcomed the DPP’s guidlelines clarification but calls for urgent action from government on assisted dying instead of piecemeal measures, as new research has found that in 7% of suicides in England (332 deaths), the individual involved had a terminal illness. These figures along with cases such as those of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb highlight the fundamental flaw in current law.

The number of people travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death continues to rise, and on average one Briton is assisted to end their life every two weeks.  This latest research from Dignity in Dying, obtained following a Freedom of Information request, would suggest that ten times as many dying people are ending their lives at home.  Dying people clearly want control at the end of their life, but the law does not provide transparent, safeguarded choices for the manner and timing of their death.

In June, the Supreme Court ruling on the Nickinson and Lamb right to die cases took the opportunity to say that they were looking to Parliament to reconsider the question of assisted dying in order to resolve what is clearly a pressing public issue. With Lord Falconer’s bill due to reach its committee stage in November, the BHA will urge peers to support it whilst calling for it to go further to cover those who incurably suffering.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, commented ‘Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right. We cannot go on exporting our suffering people to Switzerland to die in clinical environments far from home. We must instead face up to our moral responsibilities as a society and change our law to respect the choice of a person.

‘It is what the overwhelming majority of British people want to see. 81% support a change in the law, and simple compassion as well as democracy should spur politicians into action to catch up with public opinion even at this late stage’.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at or on 0773 843 5059.

DPP Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide

Dignity in Dying research – A Hidden Problem: Suicide by Terminally Ill People:

Numbers seeking death in Switzerland double:

The BHA’s campaign on Assisted Dying:

Latest Supreme Court ruling – BHA appeal dismissed but Parliament urged to review the law:

Polling showing 81% of public support assisted dying:

Previous BHA news article – ‘L’ waives right to anonymity in assisted dying court case:

Previous BHA news article – Court of Appeal allows ‘L’ to join Tony Nicklinson Claim:

Previous BHA news article – New case to test rules on assisted dying in UK:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.