Decade since historic assisted dying ruling

25 June, 2024

A full decade on from the case of Tony Nicklinson (pictured), Humanists UK and Lady Hale have made a plea for the next UK Government to allow an Assisted Dying Bill time to pass

Today marks a decade since the historic judgement that ruled against the right to die. The ruling of R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice made on 25 June 2014 by the Supreme Court, found it was up to parliament to decide on the matter of assisted dying. Humanists UK would like to commemorate the bravery of the Nicklinson family and all those who have fought for their right to die, and we hope the next parliament will finally change the law.

Tony Nicklinson suffered a severe stroke and suffered from Locked-in Syndrome, being paralysed from the neck down. He described his life as a ‘living nightmare’ and campaigned for the right to die. He took his case to the high court, which ruled against him in 2012. He died two weeks later of pneumonia after refusing all food and treatment. 

His family and other claimants took their case through the court of appeal and subsequently the Supreme Court. On 25 June 2014, it ruled against the Nicklinsons. Two judges in the case, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr, made a dissenting decision, arguing that the law should be changed.

Lady Hale and the Nicklinson family will speak at our event on the 26 June. She will reflect on the significance of the Nicklinson case and its enduring impact on the discourse surrounding assisted dying.

Lady Hale said:

‘Nearly ten years ago, the Supreme Court decided the cases of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, incurably suffering but not terminally ill men who wanted and needed help to take their own lives in the time and manner of their choosing. Five of the nine Justices held that the Court could make a declaration that the current law banning assisted suicide was incompatible with the human rights of people like Tony Nicholson and Paul Lamb, but three of those five said that Parliament should be given the opportunity of putting things right first (the other four said that it was a matter for Parliament alone). 

‘But Parliament has not put things right, despite all the evidence that the public would support a change in the law. And such proposals as have been debated are limited to terminally ill people with only a few months to live. They would not help people like Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb. Of course, there must be proper safeguards to make sure that their decisions are freely made. But it is cruel and inhumane to force them to go on living against their will.’

The Right Honourable Baroness Hale of Richmond served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 until her retirement in 2020.

Nathan Stilwell, Assisted Dying Campaigner for Humanists UK, said:

‘On Tuesday we will pause to think and remember Tony Nicklinson, the brave assisted dying campaigner who fought earnestly for his right to a compassionate death. Tony wasn’t terminally ill, but all the previous attempts to change the law have been limited to people who are terminally ill with six months or fewer left to live. That is wrong.

‘We will be fascinated to hear what Lady Hale, one of the central figures in this debate, has to say on this ten-year anniversary. For far too long, parliament has failed to tackle the assisted dying debate, and I hope the next parliament will give choice and compassion to those who want it.’

Humanists UK’s policy is that any adult of sound mind who is intolerably suffering from an incurable, physical condition and has a clear and settled wish to die should have the option of an assisted death. This includes adults with conditions like multiple sclerosis and locked-in syndrome, which are not terminal but can cause unbearable suffering without any possible relief. People with these conditions should not be omitted from assisted dying legislation. 

On Wednesday 28 June, Humanists UK and the group My Death, My Decision will be speaking to Lady Hale and members of the Nicklinson family about their views on the need for a change in the law:


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell at or phone 07456 200033.

If you have been affected by the current assisted dying legislation, and want to use your story to support a change in the law, please email

Media can use the following press images and videos, as long as they are attributed to ‘Humanists UK’.

Read six reasons we need an assisted dying law.

Read more about our analysis of the assisted dying inquiry

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

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.