Reflecting on a decade of campaigning for the legal right to die – at home and abroad

22 August, 2022

Pictured: Tony Nicklinson and his wife, Jane Nicklinson

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of assisted dying campaigner Tony Nicklinson. Tony famously took his right to die case to the High Court but did not succeed.

In the 10 years since Tony’s death, Humanists UK examines what has changed at home and abroad on the issue of assisted dying:

Around the world:

In 2012, only 133 million people around the world lived in countries with an assisted dying law, whereas now it has increased almost threefold to 370 million people worldwide. That includes:

  • The countries Austria, Canada, Colombia, Spain, and New Zealand
  • The US states Oregon, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Vermont
  • The Australian states of Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales.

Germany and Italy have also had their prohibitions on assisted dying struck down by the courts, and have seen some people have a court-approved assisted death, but neither country has yet legislated to create a scheme by which such deaths can happen.

Pictured: the state of assisted dying laws worldwide

The UK and Crown Dependencies:

  • In November 2021, the Jersey States Assembly approved assisted dying ‘in principle’. This declaration was the result of a citizens’ jury, where 78% of a jury made up of islanders selected at random said it should be allowed. A Bill will be introduced soon and is expected to pass.
  • In Scotland, a Parliamentary consultation on assisted dying in 2021 saw an ‘unprecedented’ public response and a report is due next month, followed by a Bill.
  • A Private Members’ Bill is also expected soon in the Isle of Man.

Medical opinion

Since 2012 the medical consensus has moved from opposed to neutral: the British Medical Association has moved to neutral, as have:

  • the Royal College of Physicians,
  • the Royal Society of Medicine,
  • the Royal College of Nursing,
  • the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Both public and medical opinion has shifted to being in favour of changing the law.

UK citizens’ assisted deaths in Switzerland

  • In 2012, there were 821 members of the Swiss assisted dying clinic Dignitas. In 2021 there were 1,433 UK members of Dignitas – a 75% increase.
  • 316 UK residents travelled to Dignitas between 2012 and 2021. Dignitas is only one of the three Swiss clinics.
  • In 2019 we calculated that the total number of UK citizens who ended their life in Switzerland across all clinics, in 2015-18 inclusive, was 233 – more than one a week.

The legal situation in the UK

In 2014, Paul Lamb and Tony’s widow Jane lost their case at the Supreme Court, as judges said the UK Parliament should be given the opportunity to re-consider the law. Parliament has since refused to do so, particularly for cases of people incurably suffering, like Tony. Several more cases followed, until in 2019, Paul Lamb lost a High Court bid to challenge the law, with two judges telling him his case was ‘unarguable’ and should not proceed to a full hearing. This shut the door on further litigation: it means that action might only come from Parliament.

Recent calls have focused on a parliamentary inquiry as a way to examine the matter in more detail.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Tony’s daughter Lauren is available for interviews with UK media, that can be arranged through Humanists UK.

Media are free to use this picture of Tony and Jane Nicklinson, with kind permission from the family:

Read more about Tony Nicklinson.

Read the ONS study on suicides among people diagnosed with severe health conditions.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.

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