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New research maps global assisted dying laws for the first time

A new study into worldwide laws on assisted dying has found that more than 250 million people have gained the right to die since MPs last debated proposals on changing the law. The research, carried out by Humanists UK, has been launched in map form, the first ever map of its kind, and demonstrates how far the UK’s laws are now out of kilter with the rest of the western world.

The study also uncovered two predominant models of assisted dying internationally. The first, found in New Zealand and some parts of the United States and Australia, only provides assistance to those who have six or fewer months left to live; whereas the second, found in most jurisdictions around the globe, like Austria, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, enables choice for both those who are terminally ill and incurably suffering. A similar bill is also currently under consideration in the Republic of Ireland.

Helping someone to end their life is a criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment in England and Wales.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘The publication of this map makes it clear like never before that the UK’s laws on assisted dying are in urgent need of review. It is highly significant that in the years since our lawmakers last considered proposals on assisted dying, progressive countries around the world have continued to roll back their bans in the face of overwhelming evidence.

‘But it is also notable that on the rare occasions when assisted dying legislation has been considered in the UK Parliament, it has almost always excluded those who are incurably suffering, like Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb – which is at odds with most other jurisdictions’ laws.

‘With several more countries now having passed or looking set to pass laws which will prioritise a person’s quality – not quantity – of life, we urge lawmakers in the UK to pay close attention to the international consensus on assisted dying and immediately conduct an inquiry into the law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Humanists UK’s map of assisted dying laws around the world is available as both a PNG and SVG and is being released by Humanists UK under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence. It is hoped that the map may be taken up by Wikipedia and others.

Read more about our work on assisted dying: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Support for assisted dying surging in Channel Islands and Isle of Man, according to new poll

At least eight in ten people favour assisted dying reform across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, according to the first poll ever conducted on the matter in the three jurisdictions. The findings have been welcomed by Humanists UK and Channel Islands Humanists. Both campaign to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

Island Global Research Ltd polled 2,801 adults on behalf of Dignity in Dying and found that 84% of people in Guernsey support assisted dying. 87% of people do so in the Isle of Man. And 90% of people did so in Jersey.

The news coincides with the release of an initial report from Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying. An overwhelming majority of panellists backed changing the law for the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘Few issues command greater popular support than the legalisation of assisted dying. This research shows, for the first time, that this support is now both overwhelming and ubiquitous across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.

‘We are lucky to have some of the best palliative care in the world. But it is an inescapable fact that palliative care cannot always ease everyone’s suffering. For those with either terminal and incurable illnesses, a right to die is vital because of the security it offers should their pain ever become too much to bear. With such high levels of support across Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, we are fast approaching a tipping point in the campaign for assisted dying. It is time for the Crown dependencies’ Governments to recognise this and act.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

About the poll

Island Global Research Ltd conducted the research between 10-18 May 2021 on behalf of Dignity in Dying. The total sample size was 2,801 adults (873 in Jersey, 1056 in Guernsey, and 872 in the Isle of Man). The survey was carried out online, and the figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults living in the Crown dependencies.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Read more about Channel Islands Humanists. 

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

78% of Jersey’s assisted dying citizens’ jury back changing the law

Jersey’s Citizens’ Jury on Assisted Dying has overwhelmingly recommended the legalisation of a right to die. Humanists UK gave oral and written expert evidence to the panel, which has published its initial report today. Humanists UK and Channel Islands Humanists have welcomed the publication as a major turning point for assisted dying. It expects the report now puts Jersey on course for a change in the law.

78% of the panellists recommended that assisted dying should be permitted for adults in Jersey. 70% recommended that it should be available to adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or experiencing unbearable suffering, subject to robust safeguards. This position matches Humanists UK’s.

Jersey’s citizens’ jury was convened in response to a petition started by Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Coalition partners, End of Life Choices Jersey. It garnered support from 1,861 islanders. The panel of 23 randomly selected representative members met over a ten-week period earlier this year.

Humanists UK’s evidence centred on the importance of respecting an individual autonomy, and establishing a right to die for both those with terminal and incurable illnesses.

A final report is expected to be released later this year.

Channel Islands Humanists Committee member Deputy Louise Doublet commented:

‘We are delighted with the Citizens’ Jury’s report. A change in the law on assisted dying is the only way to respect the choice, dignity, and autonomy of Jersey citizens. Palliative care can provide many people with all the support they need. But for some of those in most dire need, assisted dying is the only option that can alleviate their suffering.

‘I’m really pleased that the process included high-quality and thought-provoking evidence from Channel Islands Humanists. I now look forward to the Government bringing an in principle debate to the Assembly to consider the recommendations of the jury. I hope it uses the same evenhanded and evidence-led approach that has got us to this point.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘The recommendations of this report mark a major turning point in the campaign for legal assisted dying. If followed they clearly put Jersey on course for a landmark change in the law. It is not right that those with terminal or incurable conditions should be forced to die without dignity or to travel to Switzerland at great expense and with a risk of prosecution hanging over their loved ones. This report recognises the brutality of this situation. It finally puts to bed concerns about the public’s level of support when they engage with the details of a change in the law.

‘This report also shows that there is no rational or ethical basis for restricting assisted dying to those with six or fewer months left to live. Instead, it shows that those who are incurably suffering should be treated with equal dignity, respect, and compassion.

‘We urge lawmakers everywhere else in the UK and crown dependencies now pick up the baton and recognise the urgent need for change.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Citizens’ Jury’s report.

Jersey’s Citizens’ Jury was announced in February 2020 by Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf. It followed an e-petition in 2018, backed by 1,861 islanders, calling for the States Assembly to amend Jersey’s law on assisted dying. The panel convened over a ten week period and heard from a range of experts, including Humanists UK. The question it considered was ‘Should assisted dying be permitted in Jersey, and if so, under what circumstances?’

The sessions were organised by the public participation charity Involve. They were commissioned to design and run the Jury including all of the participant liaison.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying.

Read more about Channel Island Humanists.

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Assisted Dying Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament

New assisted dying legislation has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament. It has been prompted by Humanist Society Scotland and Friends At The End – Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Coalition partners, and Dignity in Dying Scotland. Humanists UK has welcomed the news.

Under the proposed law, doctors will be able to help terminally ill adults to end their life. Its promoters include a cross-party group of 12 MSPs. They include Jackson Carlaw, the former Scottish Conservatives leader. The move marks the first time assisted dying has been considered in Holyrood since 2015. Recent polling shows that 86% of Scots want Holyrood to debate assisted dying. 87% back proposals to change the law.

The news follows shortly after it was announced that the assisted dying campaigner Paul Lamb, who previously took his case to the Supreme Court, had died.

Speaking ahead of its introduction, Liam McArthur MSP, who is bringing forward the Bill, said: 

‘I have long believed that dying Scots should be able to access safe and compassionate assisted dying if they choose, rather than endure a prolonged and painful death.

‘The current blanket ban on such assistance is unjust and causes needless suffering for so many dying people and their families across Scotland. If you have reached the limits of palliative care and face a bad death, none of the current options available to you in Scotland represents an acceptable alternative to a peaceful, dignified death at home.’

Welcoming the news, Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘Having the ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom and the hallmark of a compassionate society. Nine in ten people favour a change in the law, as well as half of all doctors. Even with the best possible palliative care 11 Scots still suffer a bad death every week. In this context, it is not right to deny those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering the option of a legal, safe, and dignified assisted death. As with other major social reforms, we hope that by taking initiative on this issue Scotland will lead the way and the rest of the UK will follow. Assisted dying reform is long overdue, and we do everything in our power to help secure this much-needed change in the law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists UK mourns right to die campaigner Paul Lamb, who took his case to the Supreme Court

Paul Lamb with his dog Freddie

Humanists UK is sad to report the death of its patron and long-standing friend, the humanist and assisted dying campaigner, Paul Lamb.

Admired for his keen sense of humour, fortitude, and bravery, Paul Lamb was one of the most prominent activists for the right to die in the UK. In 1990, he was severely injured in a car accident and left with no function below his neck, apart from limited movement in his right arm. His condition required around the clock care and he suffered daily pain as a result. Prior to his accident, the father of two had enjoyed a successful career as a builder and champion greyhound racer.

In 2012, Paul’s fellow assisted dying activist Tony Nicklinson spearheaded a legal bid aimed at changing the law. His case hoped to allow doctors to assist people with terminal or incurable illnesses to die with dignity. Tony lost at the High Court, and sadly died days later. Paul subsequently stepped in to keep Tony’s case going, alongside Tony’s widow Jane. They were supported by Humanists UK, the only organisation to intervene in favour of a change in law. Paul and Jane went first to the Court of Appeal in 2013 and then to the Supreme Court in 2014. At the Supreme Court, they secured a landmark agreement from a majority of the judges that they were open to changing the law. But they ruled that Parliament should first be given an opportunity to debate assisted dying before. Only then might the courts definitively rule on the compatibility of the UK’s ban and Paul’s human rights. He subsequently appealed the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, which upheld the Supreme Court’s decision.

In 2015 Rob Marris MP brought forth an Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons. Regrettably, MPs voted against it. What’s more the Bill they considered wouldn’t have even helped Paul as it only dealt with the terminally ill. However, in 2020, the Court of Appeal refused him permission to bring a fresh case, ruling that assisted dying was ‘pre-eminently a matter for Parliament, and not the Courts’ – ending the prospect of further litigation for the foreseeable future.

Speaking about the importance of the right to die at Humanists UK’s Convention in Cambridge in 2017, Paul said: ‘I know when it comes to it, in the later years of my life, this country will hopefully look after me. And ideally let me have a death in the privacy and comfort of my own home, with my family and friends that I want around me. I don’t want to have to go to a strange country, where I don’t know people, and they don’t know me. That for me feels like being shoved out of the back door because I am some kind of embarrassment to the country… The word I cannot cope with is “sympathy”. I’ve never been after the sympathy vote, and I never will. I just want the law changing.’

Outside of his legal challenges, Paul was a fervent activist and leading light within the right to die movement. In 2019, he led the charge for a change in the law when speaking to members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Earlier this year he was called as a key witness to Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying. He spoke about the shocking dilemma those in his position can face between remaining conscious and in pain, or utilising painkillers at the expense of memory loss. Additionally, in 2020, he set in motion the campaign for a parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying. That led this year to more than 50 MPs and peers backing his calls, by signing the largest joint letter ever on assisted dying.

Humanists UK has been informed that prior to his death Paul Lamb had spoken of his desire to keep fighting for a change in the law. However, due to his failing health he died before such an option became possible.

Commenting on Paul’s death, Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: 

‘Paul Lamb was a tireless advocate for the right to die who dedicated his life to championing choice for those with terminal or incurable illnesses. He endured near constant pain and suffering. But despite this, Paul never accepted the injustice of our country’s ban on assisted dying for the incurably suffering, nor wavered in his determination to change the law. He leaves behind a fierce legacy of campaigning, which we are determined to continue in his honour. His death is a loss to us all, and our thoughts and wishes are with his friends and family.’

Speaking about his death, Paul’s carer, Francesca Hepworth said: 

‘Paul’s death has been a shock to us all, but I’m glad he is finally at peace. For years, Paul grappled with his condition and faced increasing pain, discomfort, and distress. But throughout it all, what scared him the most was his utter lack of control, and the prospect of his pain becoming too much to handle. I know Paul was resolute in his belief that nobody should be forced to suffer, and determined to keep fighting to change the law on assisted dying. I only regret that he now won’t be able to see such a choice realised, if the law were to change. I’m proud to have known him, and been able to call such a brave and courageous man my friend. I am going to miss him.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Campaigner Keiron McCabe at keiron@humanists.uk or on 07972204007.

Footage of Paul Lamb discussing his fight for a right to die and photographs, free for media use. 

Read more about Paul Lamb. 

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

Humanists UK mourns assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway

Humanists UK is sad to mark the loss of its longstanding member and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway, who has died aged 71 after removing his ventilator. Noel suffered from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and was dependent upon a ventilator to breathe for 23 hours a day. In 2018 he brought an ultimately unsuccessful challenge against the law on assisted dying.

Humanists UK intervened in support of Noel’s case, which he brought with the help of Dignity in Dying. It submitted evidence from humanist philosophers Simon Blackburn and John Harris. Both filed witness statements examining the underlying ethics of assisted dying, reflecting Humanists UK’s unique interdisciplinary expertise at the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy, and the law. Humanists UK also filed evidence showing widespread support for a change in the law from MND sufferers. However, the Court of Appeal refused his case. It concluded that Noel’s condition did not require a change in the law, because he was already able to hasten his death by removing his ventilator.

Noel subsequently applied for permission to the Supreme Court. He argued that the implications of removing his ventilator were uncertain and risked the sensation of drowning. However, in a split decision the Court concluded that there was not a strong enough prospect of Noel’s case succeeding to proceed to a full hearing.

In a statement Noel requested to be released upon his death, the former teacher from Shrewsbury said:

‘When you read this I will be dead. Not because I have suffered a tragic accident or died from a long-standing or painful disease. No, it will be because I have made a conscious and deliberate effort to end my own life. I suffer from MND and was diagnosed over six years ago knowing that at some stage I would reach a point when my muscles would have deteriorated to such an extent that I could not function effectively. Over the past two months it has become increasingly evident to me that the balance of fulfillment in life, or if you like, my quality of life, has dipped into the negative. My voice has depleted to the extent that many people cannot now tell what I say and my eyesight recently deteriorated. I am already paralegic and I cannot use my hands or fingers but I am aware that my neck muscles are weakening as are my mouth and speech muscles. I recognise that the time has come to take the decision now to do something about this.

‘Under UK law it is perfectly legitimate to remove a ventilator from someone like me. This is not something I would have chosen but I feel that I have no alternative to ending my life without pain and suffering and without compromising others. However, my heart goes out to all those people with terminal cancers and other horrible diseases which makes their lives execrable because they can’t find any release from their terrible suffering. I have spent the last several years campaigning to have the law changed. The topic has been aired nationally and is much more prominent now than it ever was. I am glad that Parliament is continuing to discuss it and investigate possibilities of an assisted dying law in line with many other countries over the last few years. It can only be a question of time before assisted dying will be approved in the UK.’

Responding to Noel’s death, Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of our member Noel Conway. Noel was a warm, kind, and generous man, whose fight for the right to die inspired many people and was a catalyst for action across the UK. Nobody should be forced to end their life while physically suffering, or facing the fear of a slow and protracted death.

‘Noel shined a light upon the barbaric nature of our current law on assisted dying. By doing so, Noel’s bravery should serve as a powerful reminder to politicians that we should be past the point of turning a blind eye to this issue. We offer our deepest condolences to his friends and family.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about Noel Conway’s legal bid to change the law on assisted dying.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

Assisted dying for terminally ill bill passes first Lords stage

Tony Nicklinson and his wife Jane

A new Assisted Dying Bill has been introduced in the House of Lords. It would allow patients who are of sound mind and have less than six months to live to be assisted to end their lives. Humanists UK campaigns for legal assisted dying for both those with terminal and incurable illnesses. It has welcomed the Bill as an important step forward but urged lawmakers not to overlook the incurably suffering.

The Bill has been introduced by Baroness Meacher, who is the Chair of Dignity in Dying. Under the prospective law, two independent doctors and a High Court judge would have to assess each request. They would decide whether to grant permission before assistance could be provided.

The legislation represents an important milestone in the campaign to legalise assisted dying. But the Bill would not help those with incurable medical conditions, such as Tony Nicklinson. He suffered from locked-in-syndrome and fought a right-to-die case to change the law. 88 per cent of British adults support such a right, according to a 2019 poll.

Speaking to Sky News about the Bill, Lauren Nicklinson, Tony Nicklinson’s daughter, said:

‘Whilst Dignity in Dying campaign for the terminally ill – which we absolutely support – we do want to see it go further and Humanists UK and My Death, My Decision are very much at the forefront of that… [Those who are incurably suffering, like Tony] aren’t being publicly represented in the same way, but they still need to be fought for… Why isn’t their right to choose and autonomy being respected?… Why was Dad allowed to die in the way he did, when he could have had a much more peaceful way out?

‘This Bill coming forward today is really important but doesn’t go far enough. It wouldn’t help people like my dad who spent years trapped inside his own body, living a life he didn’t want to live – where he had no way out.’

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘Nobody should be forced to suffer in pain or indignity against their will. But under current laws, many people find themselves in such circumstances but are denied the right to die. We strongly endorse the principles of this Bill as an important first step towards securing a kind, fair, and compassionate law for the terminally ill. However, we urge lawmakers to recognise that incurably suffering people need the same degree of control over when to end their lives. People deserve equal respect and dignity, irrespective of whether they have six months to live or years of endless suffering.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Government would be ‘pleased’ to see Parliamentary assisted dying inquiry – report

The Government would reportedly be pleased to see a parliamentary inquiry into the law banning assisted dying in England and Wales, it has been reported. The Telegraph reports that the Government has no intention of instigating its own inquiry into assisted dying, but also quotes a senior source at the Ministry of Justice as saying words to the effect that Ministers would ‘be pleased to see either the Health select committee or Justice select committee gather evidence on the issue’.

The news follows shortly after a group of 56 MPs and peers wrote to the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland MP, and the Chairs of the Health, Justice, and Human Rights select committee, about assisted dying. The letters were co-organised by Humanists UK and My Death, My Decision, and was backed by Humanists UK’s patron Dr Henry Marsh, who has advanced cancer. They urged one of them to launch an inquiry into assisted dying. If the Government was not minded to launch its own inquiry, Mr Buckland was asked to instead call upon a select committee to do so. This is similar to what has now been reported.

Last week a new Bill to legalise assisted dying for adults of sound mind who have six or fewer months left to live secured seventh place in the House of Lords Private Members’ Bill ballot. The Bill is likely to be debated in the coming year. It will be the first time parliamentarians have debated legislation on assisted dying in over half a decade.

Responding to the reports, Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘More than 15 years have now passed since parliamentarians scrutinised the evidence on assisted dying in any detail – and the facts have materially changed. For example, assisted dying is now legal in Canada, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, and parts of the United States and Australia, all since our politicians last considered changing the law. This demonstrates that compassionate assisted dying laws can be achieved alongside robust safeguards.

‘We are disappointed that the Government believes it does not have a role to play in neutrally assembling the evidence to inform debate. But we welcome the reported positive shift in tone towards the possibility of a parliamentary inquiry. We will continue to work towards securing this all-important inquiry and making sure parliamentarians are equipped to give this topic the high-quality debate it deserves.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Telegraph report. 

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

New Lords Bill seeks to legalise assisted dying

Baroness Meacher

A Bill that proposes to legalise assisted dying for adults of sound mind who have six or fewer months left to live has secured seventh place in the House of Lords Private Members’ Bill ballot. The Bill is being put forward by Baroness Meacher, who is the Chair of Dignity in Dying. Humanists UK, which campaigns for a right to die for both those with terminal or incurable illnesses, has welcomed the Bill for creating a much needed opportunity for debate.

Helping someone to end their life is a criminal offence in England and Wales, which carries a maximum prison sentence of up to fourteen years in jail. However, if the Assisted Dying Bill becomes law, people suffering from terminal illnesses could be helped to die provided they reached a voluntary decision, and were able to satisfy an independent judge they had made their choice free from coercion. Those suffering from incurable conditions, such as Paul Lamb, would not be eligible for assistance.

Opinion polling shows that changing the law on assisted dying for both those with terminal illnesses or incurable conditions is overwhelmingly popular, with roughly nine in ten people backing a change in the law.

Since it was drawn seventh, the Bill is likely to be debated over the coming year. If it receives sufficient support, it could theoretically become law.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘Allowing people to choose the manner and moment of their own death is the hallmark of a compassionate society and should be a basic human right. As a first step towards a kinder, inclusive, and more dignified law on assisted dying, we welcome the introduction of this Bill and the opportunity it will create for parliamentarians to consider the overwhelming evidence favouring a change in the law.

‘With the prospect of reform now seriously on the table, we urge lawmakers to immediately instigate an inquiry into assisted dying. This will make sure that politicians are equipped with the latest, up-to-date, and robust evidence required for an informed debate.’

The Bill is due to have its first reading in the House of Lords on 26 May. This is where the Bill is formally presented, but no substantial debate happens at this stage. A full debate is expected to be scheduled in due course.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists give evidence to Jersey’s assisted dying citizens’ jury

Humanists UK has given evidence to Jersey’s citizens’ jury examining assisted dying, calling for the change in the law.

Humanists UK’s evidence centred around the importance of respecting human beings’ personal autonomy, and recognising the need to cover both those with terminal and those with incurable illnesses in any legislation. Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson, in his evidence, commented ‘autonomy is a fundamental human right, and Jersey’s citizens deserve the same rights as currently enjoyed by more than 350 million people around the world.’

Humanists UK is a member of the Assisted Dying Coalition (ADC). According to a survey by fellow ADC members End of Life Choices Jersey, 87% of islanders and a majority of doctors support legal assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

The submission to Jersey’s jury on assisted dying come after the renowned neurosurgeon and patron of Humanists UK, Dr Henry Marsh, announced his advanced cancer prognosis. He has supported a call, backed by more than 50 MPs and peers, for the UK Government to hold an inquiry into assisted dying.

Commenting on Humanists UK’s evidence to Jersey’s jury, Channel Islands Humanists Chair Dave Crocker said: 

‘In a fair, kind, and compassionate society, nobody should be forced to suffer in great pain or die without dignity. Nor should anyone be denied the choice to control their own death, simply because they lack the financial means of travelling to Switzerland.

‘The evidence favouring assisted dying is now overwhelming, and this is reflected in the fact that progressive countries continue to overturn bans on assisted dying at a rapid pace. With nearly nine in ten islanders clamouring for a change in the law, we urge panellists to heed the compelling case for assisted dying and support a legal, safe, and compassionate change in the law.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read Humanists UK’s evidence to the citizens’ jury on assisted dying. 

Read more about Jersey’s citizens’ jury on assisted dying.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

Health Secretary calls for ‘high quality public debate’ on assisted dying

Credit: No 10, Licenced under Creative Commons 2.0, https://bit.ly/3dUV4tp

UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP has told parliamentarians that the facts underpinning the assisted dying debate need to be ‘properly addressed and published’. Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Choice At the End of Life, he revealed that he has recently written to the UK’s Chief Statistician asking for more data on the number of people in England and Wales who end their lives after being diagnosed with a terminal medical condition. Humanists UK has welcomed the announcement as a cautious step forward in the assisted dying debate.

Mr Hancock said he hoped additional data from the Office for National Statistics on suicide would produce an ‘independent and impartial set of facts on which we can then have a discussion’, and ‘shed more light on the data of those travelling to Switzerland in order to die at a time of their choosing’. He also stressed that another ‘important part of the discussion’ was for lawmakers to listen to those with personal testimony, as ‘people at the end of their lives don’t always have the strongest voices’.

Asked about his thoughts on proposals to introduce a Bill to legalise assisted dying specifically for those with six months left to live, he said wanted to make sure the evidence was in place first for a proper debate, and that he would want to consider how such proposals would work in practice.

The news follows shortly after a cross party group of 50+ MPs and peers called for the Government to instigate a review of the UK’s laws on assisted dying, in a letter organised by Humanists UK and their partners in the Assisted Dying Coalition, My Death, My Decision.

Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Campaigner Keiron McCabe said: 

‘By calling for the release of more data from the Office of National Statistics, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has gone further than any of his colleagues before in helping to advance the assisted dying debate. But crucially he has stopped short of instigating the full and frank inquiry those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering require.

‘Since 2015, when the matter was last seriously debated in Parliament, there has been a profound change in support for the legalisation of assisted dying, and in the evidence available for MPs to assess the case for reform. Public opinion has risen to nine in ten people favouring a change in the law, half of all doctors have come to personally back reform, and almost every major disability organisation has adopted a neutral stance on legislation. Abroad more than 250 million people have gained a right to die, and new evidence has emerged demonstrating that effective safeguards can be balanced alongside compassionate choices. We share the Health Secretary’s belief that a public debate in this field should be informed by the best statistics available and the testimony of those with personal experience – but this can only be accomplished through a full and independent inquiry. We urge lawmakers not to let this vitally important issue slip from the agenda, and to instigate an inquiry immediately.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Watch the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life Meeting.

Read more about our work on assisted dying. 

Read more about the open letter signed by 50+ MPs and peers, organised by Humanists UK, calling for an inquiry into the law on assisted dying. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Henry Marsh announces advanced cancer, joins 56 MPs and peers in calling for assisted dying inquiry

Do you agree with Henry and the 56 MPs and peers? Then please write to your MP today to ask them to support an inquiry into assisted dying.

Acclaimed neurosurgeon and bestselling author Dr Henry Marsh has revealed he may well have only a short time left to live, after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Prompted by his diagnosis, he has now called upon parliamentarians to conduct an urgent review of the UK’s assisted dying laws.

His call has been supported by over fifty MPs and peers who have signed a joint letter calling upon the Justice Secretary and various parliamentary committee chairs to launch an inquiry into assisted dying for the terminally ill and the incurably suffering. The letter was organised by Humanists UK and My Death, My Decision.

The MPs and peers come from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Green Party, and the Crossbenchers, and include some who had previously voted against changing the law. In the letter, explain that the UK’s laws on assisted dying have now fallen behind the rest of the world, and that new evidence necessitates a fresh review of the law.

The letter notes that ‘successive countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, and parts of the United States and Australia, have changed or are due to change their law since 2015. Moreover, several other nations, including Ireland, are actively considering similar proposals, reflecting that such changes can be achieved in a safe and compassionate way.’

It also says that ‘there has been a significant shift in professional medical opinion and within the disability community. As of this year, in one of the largest surveys of medical opinion ever, the British Medical Association reported that half of doctors personally support legal assisted dying, with just 39% opposed, and if the law is to change, a majority favour changing it for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering. Further, Parkinson’s UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association have adopted neutral stances on this important issue.’

According to the latest polls, up to 88% of the public favour changing the law on assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and incurably suffering.

Speaking about his diagnosis, Henry Marsh said: 

‘Having spent a lifetime operating on people with cancer, the prospect of dying slowly from it myself fills me with dread. Despite the best efforts of palliative medicine, I know that dying from cancer can still be a very horrible business – for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim.

‘I fiercely believe that if people in my situation knew they had the ability to choose how, when, and where they would die, it would greatly reduce their suffering. Knowing that I had this choice, if life became unbearable, would certainly give me much greater confidence now in facing whatever the future might hold for me. But as the law stands, I am not allowed this comfort, and the law insists instead that I must suffer. Many politicians have shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long, and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty. Irrespective of your view on assisted dying, I would hope everyone could agree that our laws should be based on evidence and informed decisions, not alarmist, unfounded opposition that flies in the face of all the evidence from countries where assisted dying has been legalised. It’s time for all MPs to start taking this issue seriously and I urgently call upon them to undertake an inquiry into the law.’

Speaking both about Henry Marsh’s diagnosis and the joint parliamentary letter, Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: 

‘I am deeply sorry to hear about Henry’s diagnosis. Henry has been a loyal friend and advocate for Humanists UK and we will continue to do everything we can to support him, including in his brave work on assisted dying.

‘The ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom, which cuts across party political and ideological lines. In coming together to demand an inquiry, Henry and the lawmakers who have signed this letter have put the voices of the terminally ill and incurably suffering at the centre of the debate. We urge the Justice Secretary not to shy away from the difficult questions posed by assisted dying, and to launch an inquiry or call on Parliament to do so, to ensure these voices are given the fair hearing they deserve.’

Speaking about the joint parliamentary letter he helped to organise, Crispin Blunt MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group said: 

‘MPs owe their constituents a duty of compassion not to let the suffering of those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering go unnoticed. In the years since Parliament last scrutinised the law underpinning our ban on assisted dying, 250 million people worldwide have gained the option of a dignified death, new evidence has emerged demonstrating that respect for autonomy can be balanced alongside robust safeguards, and professional opinion has dramatically shifted towards a change in the law.’

‘I urge the Justice Secretary to initiate an inquiry or call on Parliament to do so.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Henry Marsh

Henry Marsh, 71, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and an advanced PSA score typically associated with stage 3 and 4 cancer. The typical mortality rate for those in this situation is between one and five years.

Joint parliamentary letter

Read the joint parliamentary letter, organised by Humanists UK and My Death, My Decision.

The letter has been signed by 56 MPs and peers, including the two co-chairs of the All Party-Parliamentary Humanist Group Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell, as well as Aaron Bell MP, Lord Haworth, Lord Aberdare, Lord Dubs, Lord Turnbull, Andy Slaughter MP, Baroness Mallalieu, Baroness Taylor, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Beth Winter MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Christine Jardine MP, Chris Law MP, Clive Betts MP, Clive Lewis MP, Lord Soley, Lord Low of Dalston, Lord Lipsey, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe, Duncan Baker MP, Baroness Murphy, Lord Judd, George Howarth MP, Huw Merriman MP, Baroness Whitaker, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Baroness Tonge, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord Maxton, the Earl of Sandwich, the Duke of Somerset, Lord Barker of Dorking, Kevin Hollinrake MP, Baroness Burt, Margaret Hodge MP, Lord Rees, Viscount Ridley, Lord Desai, Lord Dobbs, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, Lord Dholakia, the Earl of Clancarty, Lord Warner, Rachel Hopkins MP, Baroness Lister, Baroness Brinton, Baroness Greengross, Baroness Hamwee, Steve McCabe MP, Lord Elder, Tommy Sheppard MP, Tracey Crouch MP, and Lord Davies of Stamford.

Wider developments

Helping someone to end their life is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act 1961, and anyone found guilty can face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

The UK Parliament last voted on assisted dying in 2015, rejecting by 330 against to 118 a private members’ bill to legalise assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and likely to die within six months.

Last year, the Court of Appeal refused Paul Lamb permission to judicially review the law on assisted dying. In its judgement the court ruled that assisted dying had now become a matter preeminently for Parliament and not the courts.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal assisted dying.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

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