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Jersey citizens’ jury pushes for legal assisted dying in final report

A citizens’ panel of 23 islanders in Jersey, tasked with examining the case for assisted dying reform, has urged lawmakers to legalise the right to an assisted death. The full report from Jersey’s Citizens’ Jury on Assisted Dying has been welcomed by Channel Islands Humanists, who has urged Jersey’s Council of Ministers to take note of its conclusions.

Earlier this year, the citizens’ panel spent nearly 25 hours listening to experts both for and against assisted dying, and questioning their evidence. Following these sessions, 78% of participants thought that assisted dying should be made legal for adults living in Jersey that either had a terminal illness or unbearable suffering, subject to robust safeguards. This aligns with Humanists UK’s policy.

Notably, the publication of this report also reveals that nearly 6 in 10 (59%) panellists thought assisted dying should be limited to those with physical conditions. Additionally, nearly 8 in 10 (77%) recommended the safeguard of a court or tribunal oversight process.

Participants were also given an opportunity to express key messages that they wanted the Council of Ministers to consider. Contributions ranged from urging lawmakers to recognise that assisted dying was about ‘compassion and letting people die with dignity’; highlighting that ‘assisted dying in Jersey is not just a humane route but one that allows people the peace of mind in the last stages of their life whether they choose to use it or not’; and noting that ‘With adequate criteria and safeguards in place, combined with robust reporting and scrutiny framework post event, there is no reason to believe the option would be abused’.

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. Humanists UK, who submitted evidence to the jury, centred its submission on the importance of respecting individual autonomy, and establishing a right to die for both those with terminal and incurable illnesses.

Jersey’s Council of Ministers is now responsible for drafting proposals for reform which are expected to be debated in principle later this year.

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

‘This report is yet another step in the right direction towards a significant change in the law in Jersey. It is sometimes alleged by opponents that when people learn more about assisted dying their support for legislation decreases. The publication of this report is therefore highly significant, because it shows the detailed deliberations and scrutiny that panellists undertook before empathetically recommending a change in the law.

‘A particularly striking conclusion from this report was the extent to which “fairness” was at the forefront of jurors’ minds when they recommended an inclusive assisted dying law. This means one for both the terminally ill and those with unbearable suffering. With up to 90% of islanders now supporting a change in the law, and nearly half of all medics endorsing reform, we strongly urge the Council of Ministers to take note of these findings and base its forthcoming proposals on the jurors’ recommendations.’

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 Full 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.

BMA drops opposition to assisted dying

The UK’s largest professional body of doctors has voted to end its 15-year opposition to the legalisation of assisted dying. Humanists UK has welcomed the decision as a seismic victory in the campaign for assisted dying.

By a margin of 49% to 48%, members of the British Medical Association (BMA) voted to approve a motion stating ‘That this meeting believes, in order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the British Medical Association should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician assisted dying’ at its annual policy-making conference. This means that the BMA will now have a neutral stance on assisted dying, mirroring the positions of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Nursing, and Royal Society of Medicine.

The vote happened after Professor Wendy Savage, a patron of Humanists UK, secured a members’ survey last year. It found that half of all doctors personally support legalising a right to die. What’s more, 59% of doctors said they believe adults with physical conditions causing intolerable suffering should be allowed help to die. Only 24% of doctors thought the right to die should be restricted to those with six months left to live.

This morning 103 doctors, including the leading brain surgeon Dr Henry Marsh and former Deputy Chief Medical Officer for NHS England Dr Graham Winyard urged the BMA to end its opposition to assisted dying in a joint letter published in the Guardian.

The news comes ahead of a parliamentary debate of Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill next month. If passed, this law would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients with less than six months to live and who have a clear and settled wish to die, subject to safeguards.

Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: 

‘It is a seismic development that the UK’s largest medical organisation has dropped its opposition to assisted dying. For decades, the perceived hostility of doctors has been a major roadblock to reform in Parliament. The ability to choose how, where, and when to die is a vital freedom, because it relates to an individual’s fundamental right to autonomy. With the possibility of legislation now on the horizon, today’s decision will be seen by patients and families as a validation of their wishes. We hope it will also be seen by parliamentarians as a green light for changing the law, as supported by the overwhelming majority of the public.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanist UK’s Assisted Dying Campaigner Keiron McCabe, at keiron@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3001.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign to legalise assisted dying. 

About the BMA’s stance on assisted dying

The British Medical Association has been opposed to assisted dying since 2006. In 2005, it was briefly neutral on the topic. On 14 September, 302 representatives voted to pass a motion which said: ‘That this meeting believes, in order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the British Medical Association should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician assisted dying.’ 48% of representatives voted in support of the motion, 48% voted against the motion, and 3% abstained.

Last year, the British Medical Association announced the outcome of its members’ survey on assisted dying. The survey was the result of a motion proposed by Dr Wendy Savage, the chair of the Islington Division of the BMA and a member of Humanists UK. The BMA heard from almost 29,000 doctors and medical students and found 40% said the BMA should actively support a change in the law; 21% favoured neutrality; and 33% wanted to remain opposed. This totals 61% calling for the BMA to change its current hostile position on assisted dying.

The results also found that 50% personally believe that doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves. Moreover, when asked who should be eligible for an assisted death if the law were to change, 59% felt that patients with physical conditions causing a terminal illness or intolerable suffering which cannot be relieved should be; whereas a further 24% thought only patients suffering from a condition likely to cause death in six months or less should be eligible.

About assisted dying

Helping someone to end their own life is a criminal offence under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, and those found guilty can face up to fourteen years’ imprisonment.

On October 22, the House of Lords will debate the second reading of Baroness Meacher’s private members’ bill. If passed her Bill would legalise assisted dying for adults of sound mind who have less than six months to live, subject to safeguards including requiring the consent of two doctors and a High Court judge.

Assisted dying for both the terminally ill and incurably suffering is supported by up to 88% of the public, according to an independent poll by NatCen in 2019.

Assisted dying is or will soon be legal for the terminally ill in New Zealand, Colombia, 11 jurisdictions in the United States and 3 Australian states. It is legal for those with either a terminal or incurable illness in Austria, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

About 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.

Over a 100 doctors call for the BMA to end its opposition to assisted dying

Photo: Mykola Vasylechko

103 doctors, including several members of the British Medical Association, have signed an open letter urging the BMA to end its opposition to assisted dying. The UK Assisted Dying Coalition, which includes Humanists UK, has organised the letter. It comes ahead of the BMA’s annual policy-making conference, where doctors will debate on 14 September the Trade Union’s stance on law reform.

According to the BMA members’ survey, only a third of UK doctors (33%) want the BMA to remain opposed to assisted dying. 40% want the BMA to support a change in the law, and 21% think the BMA should neither support nor oppose new legislation. This means that 61%, a large majority, are in favour of the BMA ending its hostility to assisted dying.

The same survey found that half of all doctors personally support changing the law. And a majority (59%) believe assisted dying should be available for either the terminally ill or incurably suffering.

Prominent signatories to the letter include Dr Graham Winyard, the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer of NHS England; Dr Henry Marsh, one of the UK’s top brain surgeons who – following a cancer diagnosis – recently called for a parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying, backed by 56 MPs and peers.

Later this year, Parliament is due to debate assisted dying for the first time in over half a decade. It will consider Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill at its second reading. In Scotland, Liam McArthur MSP has also announced his intention to bring forward a private members’ bill. Both laws would allow assisted dying for adults of sound mind who have a terminal diagnosis.

Speaking about his support for the open letter Dr Henry Marsh said:

‘Having gone to the effort of surveying its members and producing one of the largest surveys of medical opinion ever, it would be a disgrace if the BMA now disregarded their wishes by maintaining its opposition to assisted dying. Doctors must be allowed to speak up for changes in the law that would help their patients. And importantly, ensure that lawmakers do not exclude those with incurable conditions from future legislation. Over the course of my career, I was pleased to witness a shift away from paternalism within modern healthcare. Although a vocal minority may not like it, doctors should not be the arbiters of who gets the freedom to choose whether to live or die. That choice belongs to each individual. The BMA’s policy shouldn’t pretend otherwise.’

Dr Graham Winyard said: 

‘In every other aspect of medical practice, doctors accept that the wishes of their patients must be respected. This vote gives the BMA the opportunity to finally respect the clear wish of the public, its patients, and stop its opposition to assisted dying.’

Humanist UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: 

‘Doctors sent a clear message last year when a majority voted to end the BMA’s opposition to assisted dying. With people now living for longer but in poorer health and pain, it’s clear that attitudes have shifted. Bolstered by evidence from abroad that the choice of a peaceful death can be combined alongside robust safeguards, half of all doctors now personally favour changing the law for those suffering from either terminal or incurable illnesses. We hope the BMA will listen to the clear view of its members and drop its outdated hostility to assisted dying which is lacking in compassion, dignity, and respect.’

The full letter and signatories are below.

We represent a broad coalition of medics, including members of the British Medical Association (BMA), and call upon the BMA to respect the outcome of its independent members’ survey on assisted dying, and to adopt a neutral stance on law reform.

In an era when modern medicine can extend the length of an individual’s life, but not necessarily its quality, we believe that those with terminal or incurable conditions deserve a choice about how, where, and when they die.

As medical professionals, we believe that it is our first responsibility to preserve life. But that does not mean we should prolong it at any cost. We advocate for the provision of high-quality palliative care. Yet we recognise, as both the European Association of Palliative Care and Palliative Care Australia have concluded, that strong palliative medicine and the choice of an assisted death are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, individual doctors who oppose legal changes should have a right to have their voices heard. But their convictions should not silence the majority of us (61% according to the BMA’s survey) who support a change in the BMA’s policy.

With the possibility of legislation now in sight, neutrality will allow us to contribute our expertise and better inform the public’s debate. But importantly, with the momentum behind this cause continuing to grow, it will also show our patients that we are listening to their concerns and that we respect their choices.

As medics, we pledged to respect our patients’ autonomy. Now is the moment to put such a principle into action.

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 the UK Assisted Dying Coalition and its work: www.assisteddying.org.uk

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign to legalise assisted dying: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

Read more about the BMA members’ survey on assisted dying: https://www.bma.org.uk/media/3367/bma-physician-assisted-dying-survey-report-oct-2020.pdf

Full list of signatories:

Dr Henry Marsh

Dr Graham Winyard

Dr Michael Irwin

Sir Iain Chalmers

Dr Martin Scurr

Dr Rhiannon Lewis

Dr Matthew Cripps

Dr Paul Kitchener

Dr Simon Kenwright

Dr John Porter

Dr James Powell

Dr Tess Harris

Dr Hugh Newman

Dr Adam Bakker

Dr Nicholas Barnes

Dr Dilys Gannon-Ball

Dr Margaret Branthwaite

Dr Pam Wortley

Dr Elizabeth Devonald

Dr Angela Munden

Dr Josep Arnau

Dr Jennifer Burkett

Dr Susan Dilly

Dr Peter Hetherington

Dr Denise Bound

Dr Clive Studd

Dr Samantha Smith

Dr Miriam Day

Dr David Penwarden

Dr Josh Taylor

Dr Kenneth Wolfe

Dr Antony Lempert

Dr Noreen Mary Soar

Dr Edith Susan Mowbray

Dr Alexander Hunter Adam

Dr Christopher John Toynton

Dr Roger Allsopp

Dr Bruce Mackay

Dr Thomas Rousell Lee

Dr Sujata Rao

Dr Francis Degnen

Dr Ian S R Parson

Dr Sam Kirkwood

Dr Robert Humphreys

Dr Clive Barker

Dr Alan Cooper

Dr Rosemarie Jones

Dr Hubert Curran

Dr Francis Ronald John Hinde

Dr Anita Rita Kalns-Timans

Dr Noel Scott

Dr John Nicholas

Dr Thomas Young

Dr Daniel Charles Lane

Dr Rajin Chowdhury

Dr Ali Meads

Dr Robin Barber

Dr Richard Morey

Dr Trevor John Laundy

Dr Suparna Sukumaran

Dr Gayle McDonald

Dr Chris Clough

Dr Alison Murray

Dr J H Newman

Dr Julian Davis

Dr Caroline Jessel

Dr Roger M Peberdy

Dr Richard I Harris

Dr John Beverley Webb

Dr Juan Corlett Mason

Dr Anthony F M Brierley

Dr Christopher Healey

Dr Jane Lofts

Dr Laurence Smaje

Dr Debbie Shipley

Dr Gillian MacDougall

Dr Judy Greenwood

Dr Omar Hilmi

Dr Peter Sandercock

Dr Allison Thomas

Dr Michael Sudlow

Dr Mark Worsley

Dr Malcolm Macleod

Dr Ewen Stewart

Professor Richard Knight

Dr Shiona Mackie

Dr Katharine Morrison

Dr Jack Macfie

Dr Stephen McCabe

Dr Karen Rookwood

Dr Gordon Drummond

Dr Douglas Keay

Dr Phil Hammond

Dr Rosemary Leonard

Dr Jane Reid

Dr Pauline Kaczmarek

Dr Ann Mallon

Dr Debs Brown

Dr Wendy Dove

Dr Steve Guest

Dr Titilayomi Khadijah Bunmi Shonubi

Dr Derek Cooper

Dr Ilanka Elizabeth Cunningham

About the BMA

The British Medical Association has been opposed to assisted dying since 2006. In 2005, it was briefly neutral on the topic. On 14 September, it is expected to vote on whether to change its stance on assisted dying at its annual policy making conference (the Annual Representative Meeting).

In October 2020, the British Medical Association announced the outcome of its members’ survey on assisted dying. The BMA heard from almost 29,000 doctors and medical students and found 40% said the BMA should actively support a change in the law; 21% favoured neutrality; 33% wanted to remain opposed. This totals 61% calling for the BMA to change its current hostile position on assisted dying.

The results also found that 50% personally believe that doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves. Moreover, when asked who should be eligible for an assisted death if the law were to change, 59% felt that patients with physical conditions causing intolerable suffering which cannot be relieved should be; whereas only 24% thought patients suffering from a condition likely to cause death in six months or less should be the only people eligible.

About the Assisted Dying Coalition 

The Assisted Dying Coalition is the UK and Crown dependencies coalition of organisations working in favour of the legal recognition of the right to die, for individuals who have a clear and settled wish to end their life and who are terminally ill or facing incurable suffering.

It is made up of End of Life Choices Jersey, Friends at the End, Humanist Society Scotland, Humanists UK, and My Death, My Decision.

About 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.

Party leaders unite to welcome fifth anniversary of Northern Ireland Humanists

The report, Five Years of Northern Ireland Humanists, is available to download.

Northern Ireland’s party leaders sent messages of support and congratulations as Northern Ireland Humanists marks its fifth anniversary this week.

Northern Ireland Humanists celebrated its fifth anniversary on Tuesday 31 August with a special event hosted by Tim McGarry, Northern Ireland Humanists patron, and Boyd Sleator, Northern Ireland Humanists’ Coordinator. To mark this significant milestone, Northern Ireland Humanists has released a report, Five Years of Northern Ireland Humanists, on its campaigns and community services achievements over the past five years. Further, cross-party leaders offered their congratulations.

Paula Bradley MLA, Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, commented: ‘Congratulations to Northern Ireland Humanists on your fifth anniversary. You’ve achieved so much over these past five years, and I’d like to thank you for the enormous contributions that humanists have made to Northern Ireland in that time.’

Michelle O’Neill MLA, Deputy First Minister and Leader, Sinn Féin, commented: ‘I would like to congratulate Northern Ireland Humanists on your fifth anniversary. During that time, we have seen major changes in society and important steps towards equality here in the north. I would like to commend you for being part of this change through your important campaigning and wish you all the best for the future. Ádh mór!’

Colum Eastwood MP, Leader, SDLP, commented: ‘In the last five years, Northern Ireland Humanists has boldly shaped the agenda in Northern Ireland, fearlessly standing up for human rights and equality. Wishing you many congratulations on your anniversary.’

Doug Beattie MLA, Leader, UUP, commented: ‘Congratulations to all those who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help Northern Ireland Humanists reach their fifth anniversary this year. This marks an exciting new chapter for the year ahead. Wishing you all the best for the future ahead.’

Naomi Long MLA, Leader, Alliance Party, commented: ‘Thank you for all of your endeavours towards an inclusive and equal Northern Ireland, and congratulations on your fifth anniversary. We look forward to working with you on many more campaigns including repealing Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws.’

Gerry Carroll MLA, People Before Profit, commented: ‘I congratulate Northern Ireland Humanists on all the important work they have done over the last number of years around issues such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage and giving a voice to people who are normally excluded from political discourse here. I wish them well on their anniversary and I look forward to seeing the work they complete over the next five years and beyond.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘I am incredibly proud of the changes we have seen in Northern Ireland over the last five years and how humanists have been heavily involved in that progressive change. Watching a community grow, seeing people able to celebrate their lives in a way that is meaningful to them, and watching more and more people stand up for secular values, has all been hugely rewarding. Here’s to many more years of progress to come!’

Humanists UK has had members and branches in Northern Ireland since 1896 but in 2016 re-organised them into Northern Ireland Humanists – a new section. Over the last five years Northern Ireland Humanists has seen numerous successes. This includes rapidly increasing membership from 230 members and supporters in 2016 to nearly 3,000 today. In parallel, the share of the Northern Ireland population that says it belongs to no religion has ballooned from 12% in 2009 to 27% last year.

Its campaign successes include gaining legal recognition of humanist marriages in 2018 following a ruling by the Belfast Court of Appeal. This brought Northern Ireland into step with the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and ahead of England and Wales which are yet to grant legal recognition. Northern Ireland Humanists also helped to see through the legislation enabling same-sex marriages and legal abortions.

As well as extensive lobbying, it also intervened in all the legal cases on abortion. And it has become a major provider of community services. This includes weddings, namings, funerals, pastoral care in Maghaberry Prison and elsewhere, and in education. It is also heavily involved in dialogue work with religious communities.

But there is still much to be achieved. In the coming years, Northern Ireland Humanists will be focusing its efforts on reform of the education system, repealing Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws, shifting the system of organ donation from opt-in to opt-out, and securing a ban on conversion therapy.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at boyd@humanists.uk or phone 07918 975795.

Read the Five Years of Northern Ireland Humanists report: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021-08-31-Northern-Ireland-Humanists-Five-Year-Report-FINAL.pdf 

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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.

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.

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