Humanists UK mourns Sir Roy Calne (1930-2024)

8 January, 2024

Humanists UK is saddened to learn of the death of its patron Sir Roy Calne, a pioneering figure in the field of organ transplantation.

Born in London in 1930, Roy Calne embarked on a remarkable career that revolutionised transplant surgery. He performed several first transplant operations, including the first liver transplant operation in Europe in 1968 and the world’s first liver, heart, and lung transplant in 1987. His groundbreaking work saved countless lives and paved the way for advancements in the field.

After graduating from King’s College London and Guy’s Hospital Medical School, Roy became a Harkness Fellow at Harvard University and was later honoured with a professorship at the University of Cambridge, where he made a name for himself as Professor of Surgery from 1965 to 1998.  Over a career spanning several decades, he played a pivotal role in the development of immunosuppressive drugs. His research not only expanded the possibilities of successful organ transplants but also significantly improved the quality of life for transplant recipients. He was recognised for his achievements on numerous occasions, including being elected to the Royal Society in 1974, and receiving a knighthood in Queen Elizabeth’s 1986 birthday honours. He was also awarded a number of significant medals and prizes, including from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Lasker Foundation, and the Royal Society of Medicine.

A humanist who believed strongly in the power of reason, kindness, and cooperation to build a better world, Humanists UK appointed him a patron of the charity in the early 1990s. In 2003, Roy was one of the signatories to a letter organised by Humanists UK that supported a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday. It was published in The Times and sent to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary. In 2011, he was part of an impressive roster of scientists who backed Humanists UK’s successful campaign to ‘Teach evolution, not creationism’ in schools, which led to a ban on creationism being taught within science lessons from 2014.

Commenting on Sir Roy’s death, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We are deeply saddened to hear of Roy’s death. He was a man who saved millions of lives through his work and innovations, not least by performing the UK’s first successful liver transplant operation. His legacy will endure in the countless lives he touched and the advancements he pioneered. My heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.’


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

Humanists UK has over 200 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The President of Humanists UK is the geneticist, science writer, and broadcaster, Dr Adam Rutherford. He is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Alice Roberts, Shaparak Khorsandi, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor AC Grayling, and Polly Toynbee.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.