In new court challenge, terminally ill patient seeks right to assisted death

11 January, 2017

Noel Conway with his wife, Carol.

In a new application for judicial review to the High Court, Noel Conway, a man with motor neurone disease, is seeking the right to an assisted death. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has long campaigned in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering, and intervened in support of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb’s earlier cases seeking these rights. The BHA has welcomed Mr Conway’s action.

From 2010 Tony Nicklinson, who had locked-in syndrome, took a case seeking an assisted death on the basis that his right to private life was being impinged by the lack of such a right. Tony died after his case was lost at the High Court, but for subsequent appeals at the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and European Court of Human Rights, his cause was taken up by his widow, Jane, and Paul Lamb, another locked-in sufferer.

In its groundbreaking ruling, a majority of the Supreme Court judges argued that while they were open to declaring UK law incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in this area, they would first look to the UK Parliament to resolve such a high-profile, pressing public ethical issue.

At that time there was a private member’s bill by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords. But that bill subsequently failed to pass as the Government refused to schedule sufficient time for it to be fully debated, and at any rate in 2015 a subsequent bill in the Commons was overwhelmingly defeated.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘For the last year it has been clear that it is only through the courts that we might see progress towards legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering, so Noel’s action is very welcome.

‘Over 80% of the public agree that a change of law is necessary, and the current situation represents a denial of individuals’ choice, autonomy, and dignity. The only compassionate way forward now is for the High Court to rule that the law must be amended, and we look forward to doing what we can to support the case and ensure that this happens.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on or 07738 435059.

Read the BHA’s 2015 news item, ‘With MPs voting against assisted dying, the fight must now turn back to the courts’:

Read the 2014 news item ‘Assisted dying appeals supported by the BHA dismissed by Supreme Court, Parliament urged to review law’:

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on assisted dying:

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.