Humanists UK to intervene in Conway assisted dying case at Court of Appeal

26 April, 2018

Humanist and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway

Humanists UK has been given leave to intervene in the Court of Appeal hearing of its member Noel Conway, who has been fighting for the right to an assisted death. Noel, who has motor neurone disease, lost his case at the High Court in October, and is now seeking to have that decision overturned. Humanists UK is supporting Noel’s challenge.

Humanists UK has worked with humanist philosophers Simon Blackburn and John Harris to craft its appeal. Both have put in witness statements examining the underlying ethics of the situation, reflecting Humanists UK’s unique interdisciplinary expertise at the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy, and the law. Humanists UK adopted a similar approach in the Supreme Court cases Nicklinson (also concerned with assisted dying) and NIHRC (about abortion in Northern Ireland). Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson also submitted evidence on the views of people with motor neurone disease on assisted dying.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is morally wrong that the UK is denying individuals such as Noel Conway the opportunity to die with dignity at a time and in a manner of their choosing. As more and more jurisdictions around the world are responding to demands for recognition, we very much hope the UK soon joins them.’

Hodge Jones & Allen LLP’s Nancy Collins, who is representing Humanists UK in the case, commented, ‘The issue at stake in this appeal is of fundamental importance; the right of those with terminal illnesses to choose when and how they die. This right has been recognised in other jurisdictions and this case provides an opportunity for there to be a change to the current ban on assisted dying in England and Wales. A change in the law to allow assisted dying would alleviate the terrible difficulties faced by individuals, like Mr Conway, and their families who wish to decide for themselves when they are ready to die. Humanists UK provides crucial evidence and insight into the wishes of people like Mr Conway.’

Details of the case

Noel, who is supported by Dignity in Dying, is challenging the illegality of assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and have six months or fewer to live. His case will be heard by the Court of Appeal from the 30 April to the 4 May.

In addition to the witness statements from Simon Blackburn, John Harris, and Andrew Copson, Humanists UK will also be making oral and written submissions. Humanists UK is being represented in its intervention by Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.
Noel’s case is brought using article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, arguing that section 2 of the Suicide Act interferes with his right to private and family life.
Noel’s decision at the High Court represents some advance over the previous decision, in the challenge brought to the Supreme Court in 2014 by Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb. There, the court decided that as the issue was such a high profile ethical debate, Parliament should first of all have a chance to decide the matter, before the courts do. However, in 2015 the House of Commons rejected an Assisted Dying Bill. So, the judges decided for the first time that the court should now engage with the substantial issues at hand. Unfortunately, however, the court decided that preventing Noel from being able to access an assisted death is legitimate under the Convention.

Separately, another Humanists UK member, ‘Omid T’, is bringing a case to also challenge the fact that those who are incurably suffering cannot access an assisted death. His case has had a preliminary hearing at the High Court, which is currently awaiting its decision.


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or on 020 3675 0959.

Read Humanists UK’s previous comment, on the conclusion of the High Court hearing:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on 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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