Lady Hale: Lack of assisted dying law is ‘cruel’

27 June, 2024

Last night, at an event to commemorate ten years since the historic assisted dying ruling of R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice, former Supreme Court president Lady Hale said the lack of an assisted dying law is ‘inhumane and cruel’.

The Right Honourable Baroness Hale of Richmond 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.’

Andrew Copson and Lady Hale in conversation

Lauren Nicklinson, daughter of assisted dying campaign Tony Nicklinson, said:

‘We had letters from religious organisations telling us we were going to burn in hell. We had national newspaper columnists write lengthy articles telling Dad to stop moaning and just starve himself to death already, accusing Mum of being fame-hungry. We were accused of reintroducing Nazi death camps and the mass execution of the disabled, and there was a Facebook page mocking Dad, telling him to get a job. 

‘The truth is, my Dad was no more special than any of yours – but he did do an extraordinary thing. He fought back and together with our incredible legal team, he stood up and said that forcing him to live a life he did not want, one full of pain and suffering, was not OK.

‘I appreciate that some people value life for what it is. But please do not deny everyone else the freedom of choice because it conflicts with your own moral or religious values.  Because ultimately this is all about autonomy and individual choice.‘

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.

Pictured: Jane and Lauren Nicklinson, Lady Hale, Andrew Copson, and My Death My Decision chair Trevor Moore

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

‘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.’

‘Last night we remembered 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.

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. 


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

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.

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