Five ways humanists have promoted better healthcare for all

7 April, 2024

Pictured: NHS pioneer and humanist, Nye Bevan, the day the act came into effect, 5 July 1948, Park Hospital, Davyhulme.

For World Health Day, we’re celebrating the humanist visionaries who spearheaded better healthcare in the UK! Here are five ways humanists have pioneered better healthcare:

1) The National Health Service

Since its inception, the NHS has continued to represent fundamentally humanist values: that scientific advancements can be harnessed for social progress, that people with differing beliefs can cooperate for the common good, and that every human being should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. In all, we credit the creation of the NHS to three innovative campaigners who all happened to be humanists: William BeveridgeNye Bevan [pictured], and Clement Attlee.

2) Leading the fight for reproductive rights

Through our early work with the pioneering Abortion Law Reform Association, our role in legalising abortion in England and Wales, and the formation of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service – humanists have always been at the forefront of championing women’s reproductive rights. Today, we campaign for total decriminalisation of abortion, and for a permanent end to religious harassment outside of clinics

3) Pioneering the life-saving opt-out organ donation system

As humanists, we do not believe in an afterlife, nor do we place any ‘spiritual’ value on the body. For humanists, being an organ donor is a decision to maximise human health. In recent years, this campaign has been successful. The law has moved from opt-in to soft opt-out in Wales (in 2015), Jersey (2019), England (2020), Scotland (2021), and Northern Ireland (2023).

4) The Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network 

Through the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, we have over 200 trained and accredited carers supporting people through life’s most challenging moments in hospitals, prisons, universities – even in the Senedd! While pastoral care was traditionally provided by only religious chaplains, our non-religious pastoral carers now operate in 10% of prisons and 30% of NHS Trusts in England and Wales. And even before the creation of the network, humanists were providing much-needed pastoral support, as well as pioneering ideas like ‘humanistic psychology’ and a national body for counselling.

5) Campaigners for assisted dying reform 

From our inception in 1896, to early humanist figures like Olga Jacoby, through to our campaign for legal assisted dying today – humanists have long been instrumental in shaping the ethical landscape of healthcare, advocating for patient autonomy, informed consent, and the right to die with dignity. Today, we campaign for a humane law with robust safeguards so that terminally ill and incurably suffering people can freely choose when and how they die, if and when they should decide their suffering is too great to bear, and once palliative care options have been tried and exhausted.

For more information about humanism and healthcare, visit our Humanist Heritage website: ‘Humanists at Help’: a history of humanist care.


For further information or comment, please contact Kathy Riddick on

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 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.