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Nichola Raihani explains the evolutionary origins of cooperation in the biggest Voltaire Lecture to date

Professor Nichola Raihani (L) receives the 2021 Voltaire Medal, presented by Professor Alice Roberts (R)

Nichola Raihani, Professor of Evolution and Behaviour at UCL, and author of The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World, on Wednesday night delivered the Voltaire Lecture 2021 on the same title, in an event viewed by over 1,000 people worldwide and chaired by Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts.

Describing human cooperation as ‘our superpower’, Nichola noted that it is a defining characteristic of our species, arguing that the act of teaching and even the menopause itself – both almost unique to humans in the mammal class – are quintessentially cooperative, and evolutionary advantageous. She demonstrated how humans sometimes use instances of cooperation – such as generous giving, especially when visible to others – in the same way male peacocks develop ostentatious feathering, while cautioning that generosity and cooperation being evolutionary advantageous to the cooperator does not mean these acts are done cynically, or even consciously. And she paused to reflect on abuses and ‘victims’ of a cooperative spirit, seen in cartels, cronyism, and nepotism, and the effects of failure to cooperate, as seen in environmental and ecological destruction, arguing that cooperation must move past the locally cooperative behaviours we’ve evolved, and consider how we can cooperate more effectively at a larger, even global, scale.

Following the lecture and an expansive question and answer session, Alice Roberts presented Nichola with the Humanists UK Voltaire Medal, for demonstrating that we need not think of cooperation, altruism, or empathy as inhuman, or unnatural instincts, behaviours, or desires, and for her research and promotion of science with the potential to make very significant impact on how we see the human being.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Science increasingly validates the humanist intuition that to be cooperative – to think for yourself, and act for everyone – doesn’t require fighting against our human nature but the opposite. Professor Raihani’s Voltaire Lecture and her new book are an outstanding contribution to this growing field. If humanity can harness our evolved headstart and learn to cooperate more widely – while avoiding cooperation’s unwanted pitfalls – we can bring about the kinder, more rational, more tolerant world humanists seek.’

Notes:

About Professor Nichola Raihani

Nichola Raihani is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor in Evolution and Behaviour at University College London (UCL). Her group’s research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species.

She has been widely published in scientific journals, won the 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology for her research achievements, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2018. She is also the author of The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World (Penguin, UK, 2021) and has appeared on several podcasts and radio shows, including BBC Radio 4’s Hacking the Unconscious, and Thought Cages and RSA’s Bridges to the Future.

About Professor Alice Roberts

Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She’s Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

She has co-authored The Little Book of Humanism published in 2020, and The Little Book of Humanist Weddings, published today.

About the Voltaire Lecture series

The Voltaire Lecture explores ‘any aspect of scientific or philosophical thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism’. The Voltaire medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named for the philosopher Voltaire and the Voltaire Lectures Fund was originally established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire.

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.

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.

Humanists respond to crisis in Afghanistan

Photo credit Andre Klimke via Unsplash.

Take action today by writing to your MP to urge them to advocate for a humanitarian response to the crisis.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has been devastating for millions of people, with many losing their lives, livelihoods, or being internally displaced.

The crisis is particularly devastating for women and girls. They now face being denied the right to education, being denied employment, being unable to leave their homes without a male chaperone, and being forced to wear a full face covering when they do.

It is also devastating for minorities, including LGBT people, religious minorities, and the non-religious. Even before the Taliban took over, it was already the case that blasphemy and apostasy were punishable by death. Sadly it is likely that such laws will be more widely used and enforced.

At Humanists UK, we have been doing whatever we can to urge the UK Government to do what it can to support the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. We have been acting in concert with Humanists International in this.

We have been liaising with the Foreign Office about the need for the UK to do whatever it can to protect the human rights of women and girls. This includes by increasing funding and support for local NGOs. We have also asked them to support NGOs and human rights defenders that promote democracy, children’s rights, freedom of religion or belief, education, health care, and other vital needs. And we hope that the UK will call for accountability and sanctions against actors and governments directly or indirectly supporting the Taliban.

We have also asked the UK Government to use international levers to uphold Afghans’ rights and safety. That includes through the UN Human Rights Council and the Security Council. We are pleased to see the UK supporting an emergency session of the Human Rights Council next week. We hope to see it use the Security Council to bring a resolution to bring sanctions against those breaching international law, and to mandate that UN agencies and other humanitarian groups should have full and free access to those in need.

We have also alerted the Government to particular humanist activists who need safe haven. And we have been in correspondence with the Home Office about the need for any UK resettlement programme to include the non-religious among those who are prioritised. The non-religious community in Afghanistan may appear to be very small. But that is simply a reflection of how severe the persecution they have always faced has been.

And we have been urging our members and supporters to write to their MPs, making the same asks.

This weekend was also the General Assembly of Humanists International. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, is also presently the elected President of Humanists International. Speaking in that capacity as he opened the Assembly, Andrew commented:

‘[We must now] think of the people of Afghanistan, where the advance of the Taliban all over the country has ushered in the end of hopes for freedom. The things most valued by our humanist movement – freedom of thought, speech, and choice; human rights including of women, LGBTI+ people, and children; knowledge, rationality; human empathy – are the things most hated by the Taliban and those who have allied or will ally with them. I know that all national humanist organizations will be urging the governments of their countries to take whatever action they can – unilaterally and multilaterally – to secure the human rights and equitable treatment of everyone within Afghanistan.

‘I know too that we will all be increasing our support for Afghan refugees – both humanists and others – who have fled or are fleeing the utter darkness of the regime that their homeland will now suffer again. And we will be urging our governments to do the same. Our growing horror at the rise of totalitarian regimes of all kinds must not extinguish our hope that a better world is possible. But it is an urgent call to action that none of us can ignore.’

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 work on international campaigns.

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.

Professor Nichola Raihani to deliver Voltaire Lecture 2021

Humanists UK has announced the Voltaire Lecture 2021 – The Social Instinct – will be delivered by Nichola Raihani, psychologist, Professor of Evolution and Behaviour, and author of a 2021 book by the same name. Following the lecture, taking place on Wednesday 22 September, Raihani will be presented with the Voltaire Lecture Medal by Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts.

In her Voltaire Lecture, Raihani will illuminate the role of cooperation in the human story: why we live in families, why women experience the menopause, and why we routinely help complete strangers. She will also explore the dark side of cooperation, looking at how cooperation creates victims, where cooperation fails, and why we sometimes cheat.

Professor Raihani will also introduce attendees to other cooperating species, from the pied babblers of the Kalahari to the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef. She will lead on an exhilarating, far-reaching, and thought-provoking journey through all life on Earth, with profound insights into what makes us human and how our societies work.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘The Voltaire Lecture is our longest-running lecture: a history of big ideas stretching back decades. For over 50 years, audiences have heard from brilliant and inspiring thinkers, including Professor Sir David King, Barbara Wootton, Steven Pinker, Bonya Ahmed, and Sir Ludovic Kennedy.

‘The Voltaire Lecture Medal is an opportunity to recognise people we believe have important things to say: about the world, about philosophy, about society, or about human nature. We’re delighted that Nichola will be our 2021 Voltaire Medallist, and we look forward to welcoming our audience to the lecture in September.’


Notes:

About Professor Nichola Raihani

Nichola Raihani is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor in Evolution and Behaviour at University College London (UCL). Her group’s research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species.

She has been widely published in scientific journals, won the 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology for her research achievements, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2018. She is also the author of The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World (Penguin, UK, 2021) and has appeared on several podcasts and radio shows, including BBC Radio 4’s Hacking the Unconscious, and Thought Cages and RSA’s Bridges to the Future. You can find out more about Nichola’s research and connect with her on Twitter: @nicholaraihani.

About Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts has been President of Humanists UK since January 2019. She is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, Director of Anatomy for the NHS Severn Deanery School of Surgery, and holds honorary fellowships at Hull, York Medical School, and the University of Bristol.

She is an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, a member of the Advisory Board of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, Patron of the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, and a member of the Council of the British Heart Foundation.

She combines her academic career with one as a science presenter on television. She has appeared as a human bone specialist on Channel 4’s Time Team and in various projects on BBC2, including Coast, Don’t Die Young, The Incredible Human Journey, Wild Swimming, Digging for Britain, Horizon, and Origins of Us.

About the Voltaire Lecture

This explores ‘any aspect of scientific or philosophical thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism’. The Voltaire medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named for the philosopher Voltaire and the Voltaire Lectures Fund was originally established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire.

It has been delivered by Professor Sir David King, Baroness Wootton, Professor Steven Pinker, Professor Richard Dawkins, Natalie Haynes, Michael Foot, Kenan Malik, Bettany Hughes, Nick Cohen, Dr Henry Marsh, Bonya Ahmed, and Sir Ludovic Kennedy.

– – –

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.

Find out more about Humanists UK’s events.

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.

Northern Ireland Humanists announces five year anniversary celebration

Northern Ireland Humanist patrons Laura Lacole (L) and Tim McGarry (R).

Northern Ireland Humanists will be celebrating its five years of work advancing humanism, rational thinking, and kindness in Northern Ireland with a special anniversary event on 31 August.

The event, which is being hosted by the comedian and Northern Ireland Humanists patron Tim McGarry, will also see the launch of a brand new report examining the incredible impact humanist campaigning has had on the legal and social landscape of Northern Ireland in recent years.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. It brings together Humanists UK’s growing number of members, supporters, and activists in Northern Ireland to put humanism into practice through work in schools, humanist ceremonies, pastoral support, and campaigns for a more secular, inclusive society. While Humanists UK’s presence in Northern Ireland dates back to 1896, it was in 2016 that the movement first came together as a nationwide entity.

Since 2018, following a successful legal case taken by model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O’Kane, humanist marriages have had legal recognition in Northern Ireland and have been growing in popularity ever since. Lacole, a patron of Northern Ireland Humanists, will speak to Tim McGarry about her experiences and discuss the incredible growth of humanist ceremonies in the three years since. The event will also hear from the volunteer team leading Northern Ireland Humanists’ activities, plus humanist campaigners working on the repeal of blasphemy laws and an end to divided schools, humanist historians, non-religious pastoral carers, and humanist celebrants.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator said:

‘Five years ago when we first founded Northern Ireland Humanists, we set ourselves big ambitions – an end to divided schools, winning legal recognition for humanist marriages, and legalising same-sex marriage and abortion. People in 2016 would scarcely believe how far we’ve come in just five short years!

‘Northern Ireland is changing. It is becoming a kinder, more tolerant, and more inclusive place. This event is our opportunity to celebrate the progress we’ve made and look ahead to the future too.’

Tickets to Five Years of Northern Ireland Humanists are free but registration in advance is essential.

Notes:

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

Successful Northern Ireland Humanists campaigns include:

Separately, an independent review of education will be looking at a single education system for Northern Ireland, which is something Northern Ireland Humanists actively campaigns for.

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.

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.

Faith to Faithless to hold national Apostasy Conference

This August will see delegates turning out in their hundreds for a national Apostasy Conference, organised by Faith to Faithless, the Humanists UK support programme for so-called ‘apostates’ (people who leave high-control religions and cults). The online conference will take place over four days, and will feature in-depth talks and roundtable discussions on the key issues faced by apostates.

The main event of the Apostasy Conference 2021 takes place on August 18, and will feature talks given by the UK’s leading experts on apostasy. Topics will include the rights of apostates to access services, an overview of the systemic barriers they face, and some of the latest data informing the work of Faith to Faithless. Delegates will also hear powerful testimonies and stories from apostates themselves on where they found their access to services was seriously lacking.

Leading up to the main event, Faith to Faithless will also be hosting interactive roundtables on 13, 14, and 17 August, where attendees will be encouraged to participate in breakout rooms to discuss different key issues. This includes the latest research into the kinds of abuse apostates suffer, how service providers can improve provision and awareness, and the needs of apostates when ‘coming out’.

Since 2017, Humanists UK and Faith to Faithless have provided direct support to over 1,000 apostates, trained 293 service providers, and supported over 30 humanists fleeing persecution abroad to secure asylum in the UK.

Announcing the conference, Imtiaz Shams, co-founder of Faith to Faithless, said:

‘When we set up Faith to Faithless, we wanted to give apostates a voice – and to strip away the barriers that prevent them from living free, full, and happy lives. Since 2017, we’ve supported over 1,000 apostates and chipped away at some of those systemic barriers.

‘Our Apostasy Conference is an important platform for us to connect many more people with the stories of apostates and the issues we face. We want everyone who is struggling with leaving a religion to know they’re not alone, to know where they can come for support, and ultimately, to find a safe path to the kind of life they want to lead.’

Registration for the Apostasy Conference and roundtable events is free. Book your place now.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Community Services Teddy Prout at teddy@humanists.uk.

Faith to Faithless is Humanists UK’s support programme for so-called ‘apostates’ and those who leave high-control religions. The service is led by apostates themselves, who have knowledge and experiences of apostate communities facing serious and systemic issues.

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.

Hundreds come together for Humanists UK Convention celebrating World Humanist Day

Around 700 households joined Humanists UK’s 2021 Convention online on Saturday 19 June, making it the best-attended Convention to date. In welcoming attendees, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson took the opportunity to note the charity’s varied achievements in the previous 12 months, in the teeth of the pandemic, thanking members for their continued support and generosity.

The half-day event featured four hour-long sessions, beginning with Sathnam Sanghera and Samira Ahmed discussing the effects of the British Empire still felt today around the world and in the UK. Recognising the importance of acknowledging and understanding our histories, attendees then heard from the authors of an upcoming book on the history of humanism in the UK, and of Humanists UK itself, with Professors Callum Brown and David Nash joined by Dr Charlie Lynch, and chaired by Humanists UK’s Heritage Coordinator, Madeleine Goodall.

Jim Al-Khalili (L) and Alice Roberts (R) speaking at Humanists UK Convention 2021

Jim Al-Khalili (L) and Alice Roberts (R) speaking at Humanists UK Convention 2021

Following a break for lunch, astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt took viewers even deeper into the past, right back to the beginning of the universe, seeking to explain in an expansive lecture how it is that we humans are here today, capable of asking these biggest of big questions. Science communicator and former poker champion, Liv Boeree, an astrophysicist herself, teased out and distilled the essence of Stephen’s talk in a brief but brilliant discussion. The day came to a close with a keynote session with Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts, chaired by Vice President Professor Jim Al-Khalili, in a session that reminded attendees of our shared humanity – our shared histories, and our shared future.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘Our speaker Callum Brown said in his session on humanist history that “Secularism, rationalism, and humanism have been essential to the evolution of modern values – against racism, against inequality, against homophobia. In each of these areas, humanism has been critical.”

‘That’s what we remember in this year of our 125th anniversary. We believe it’s these values our members hold and aspire to. So many of the social changes fought for and won by humanists were built from conversations like these, events like these, discussions like these, provoking people to ask questions for themselves and develop their own ideas about the world.

‘I look forward to seeing many of you again to continue those conversations at our next Convention, in Belfast, in 2022.’

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.

Find other upcoming Humanists UK events at humanists.uk/events

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 and Christians urge as many as possible to get vaccinated against Covid-19

Humanist and Christian leaders have come together to urge as many people as possible to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The call is by Churches Together in England and the Scottish Church Leaders Forum on behalf of their around 60 member churches, and by prominent figures in the UK’s humanist movement. It is being made now that everyone over 30 has been offered the vaccine. It is vital that younger people get vaccinated, as even though they may be at less risk themselves, they may still present a risk to others. The call is also timed to coincide with the UK Government hosting the world’s first Global Vaccine Confidence Summit.

The humanist and Christian leaders have organised similar statements that are intended to better speak to people who share their own beliefs. The joint intervention underlines the importance of the vaccination campaign.

The humanist statement has been signed by 60 people, including high-profile humanists like Stephen Fry, Alice Roberts, Richard Dawkins, Sandi Toksvig, Jim Al-Khalili, and Polly Toynbee. It has also been signed by the Chief Executives of Humanists UK and Humanist Society Scotland, Coordinators of Wales Humanists and Northern Ireland Humanists, the Editor of New Humanist, and the officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. It reads:

As humanists we hold a wide variety of beliefs and don’t always agree about everything. But we are united in believing that it is essential that as many people as possible are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to our communities. It has led to significant loss of life and has caused vast disruption to everyone’s daily lives. It has disrupted weddings, other rites of passage, and sometimes meant that people have had to put their whole life plans on hold. The toll all this disruption has had on people’s mental health represents a growing crisis, as does the number of people falling into poverty.

We believe the vaccines authorised by the MHRA are the most significant way in which our society can control the pandemic, accompanied by widespread testing and isolation regimes. The vaccines may have been developed and approved for use at unprecedented speeds. But this is because of unprecedented upfront investment and collaboration. We believe they have been through the same rigorous approval processes that would be demanded of any medicine before it is authorised for emergency use. This includes double-blind randomised controlled trials and peer review. The evidence from those trials suggests that the vaccines are effective. The risks from contracting Covid-19 far outweigh any risks associated with some or all of them, depending on your age and underlying health conditions. That this is the case represents a towering scientific achievement.

Estimates vary on how many people would need to be vaccinated before coronavirus restrictions can be lifted entirely. But with new strains of the virus spreading more easily, it is clear that a large majority of adults need to be vaccinated. This includes those who are personally at low risk. This is because this contributes to the reduction in transmission of the virus. That, in turn, reduces the risk of further mutation of the strains of Covid-19 in the community.

As a result, we believe everyone who is medically able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 should take up the NHS’s offer of an injection. The NHS has advice on when it expects to be able to offer the jab to different sections of the population. This includes whether you are able to have the vaccine and legitimate medical exemptions. If you are not sure whether you are able to receive the vaccine, please consult your GP or consult nhs.uk.

With the vaccine, we can begin to imagine an end to the pandemic. The Government hopes to be able to offer all adults the vaccine by September. It is hoped that booster vaccines can be quickly developed to better deal with new strains, if they prove needed. But we believe we can only get there, and resume our daily lives as they were, if we all take up this call.

In terms of those who should not get vaccinated, the NHS specifies exemptions on its website. These include children, on whom the vaccines have not yet been fully tested, and those who have a legitimate medical exemption. This includes, for example, because they have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past. The vaccine regulator has also advised that those under 40 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative vaccine to Oxford/AstraZeneca. This is due to reports of an extremely rare blood clotting problem. For everyone else, the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any risk of clotting problems.

Click here to see the full list of signatories

Humanist leaders:

  1. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
  2. Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland
  3. Kathy Riddick, Coordinator, Wales Humanists
  4. Boyd Sleator, Coordinator, Northern Ireland Humanists
  5. Samira Shackle, Editor, New Humanist

Officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group:

  1. Crispin Blunt MP, Chair
  2. Baroness Bakewell DBE, Co-Chair
  3. Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen, Secretary
  4. Alf Dubs, Treasurer
  5. Baroness Burt of Solihull, Vice Chair
  6. Clive Lewis MP, Vice Chair
  7. Tommy Sheppard MP, Vice Chair
  8. Jeff Smith MP, Vice Chair
  9. Lord Taverne QC, Vice Chair
  10. Rt Hon Lord Warner of Brockley PC, Vice Chair

Patrons of Humanists UK:

  1. Professor Alice Roberts, President
  2. Professor AC Grayling, Vice President
  3. Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE FRS, Vice President
  4. Polly Toynbee, Vice President
  5. Dr Iolo ap Gwynn FRMS
  6. Sian Berry AM, Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
  7. Professor Simon Blackburn FBA
  8. Sir David Blatherwick KCMG OBE
  9. Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS FMedSci
  10. Don Cameron BSc MA MIEE D.Eng FRSGS
  11. Dr Peter Cave
  12. Dr Helena Cronin
  13. Sir Richard Dalton
  14. Professor Richard Dawkins FRS FRSL
  15. Professor R.I.M. Dunbar FRAI FBA
  16. Zoë Fairbairns
  17. Kate Fox
  18. Professor Christopher French
  19. Stephen Fry
  20. Dr Alan Haworth
  21. Natalie Haynes
  22. Dr Michael Irwin
  23. Dr Christian S Jessen
  24. Warren Lakin
  25. Stewart Lee
  26. Kenan Malik
  27. Zoe Margolis
  28. Ian McEwan CBE FRSA FRSL
  29. Stephanie Merritt
  30. Diane Munday
  31. Lauren Nicklinson
  32. Professor Kate E Pickett, FRSA FFPH
  33. Professor Steven Rose
  34. Martin Rowson
  35. Michael Rubenstein
  36. Professor Wendy Savage
  37. Professor Stephen Smartt FRS
  38. Joan Smith
  39. Kate Smurthwaite
  40. Dan Snow MBE
  41. Professor Raymond Tallis FMedSci FRCP FRSA
  42. Sandi Toksvig OBE
  43. Stephen Volk
  44. Professor Richard Wiseman
  45. Professor John Worrall

 

The Christian statement has been signed by Churches Together in England’s General Secretary, Rev’d Dr Paul Goodliff, on behalf of its 50 member churches, and Revd Dr John McPake, Secretary to the Scottish Church Leaders Forum, on behalf of its around ten members. Those include the major churches from the Anglican, Catholic, Presbytarian, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Orthodox, and Lutheran traditions, as well as Free Churches, Quakers and others.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been a tremendous success. But if we are to have any hope of lifting Covid restrictions entirely, we need a large share of the population to be vaccinated. There is clearly therefore further to go. Some younger people may be hesitant to get vaccinated due to being at less personal risk from the virus, and concerns around blood clots. But our simple message is that they should still take up the jab offered to them. This is the best way to save lives and potentially bring the pandemic to an end.’

Churches Together in England General Secretary Rev’d Dr Paul Goodliff commented:

‘People of goodwill and with a concern for the welfare of the most vulnerable in society quite properly collaborate together in commending vaccination as the most significant tool in the fight with Covid pandemic. Christians widely support the vaccination programme, as do humanists, and both share a concern for the common good.’

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 humanist and Christian statements.

Read Humanists UK’s advice on getting vaccinated.

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.

Over 500 attend launch of Humanist Climate Action

Professor Alice Roberts, Mark Lynas, Profesor Ben Garrod, Dr Anjana Khatwa, and Professor Sarah Bridle speak at Humanist Climate Action launch

Clockwise, from top-middle: Professor Alice Roberts, Mark Lynas, Profesor Ben Garrod, Dr Anjana Khatwa, and Professor Sarah Bridle

On Friday over 500 people joined a dazzling lineup of scientists, authors, and broadcasters concerned by the threat of man-made climate change to discuss strategies, approaches, and ambitions to save our planet from a looming ecological crisis.

The event, entitled Climate Change: a Human Problem – a Human Solution, was organised to mark the official launch of Humanist Climate Action, a new volunteer-led group of Humanists UK members and supporters taking action together on climate change.

Humanists UK President Professor Alice Roberts chaired an impressive panel of experts, featuring astrophysicist-turned-food sustainability researcher Professor Sarah Bridle; the primatologist, conservationist, and broadcaster Professor Ben Garrod; Earth scientist and broadcaster Dr Anjana Khatwa; and the environmentalist author and campaigner Mark Lynas.

Following opening remarks, conversation soon turned to the urgency with which world governments must act on climate change, and how we must apply pressure to them; the need to remain wary of corporate attempts at ‘greenwashing’; the need to build a coherent and inspiring ‘narrative’ that brings people along; and the roles we can all play for the regeneration of the planet, making sure no voices are excluded or left behind.

The build-up to the event also saw many humanist activists planting trees, as part of an initiative to plant a ‘humanist forest’ to help tackle climate change.

Commenting on the event in a message of support to Humanist Climate Action, Professor Dame Anne Glover, Humanists UK patron and a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government and European Commission, said:

‘Science has provided us with the evidence about climate change. But really now it’s up to us. So use your imagination, and start contributing to the solution, and stop creating the problem.’

Those interested are invited to become part of Humanist Climate Action and follow its updates Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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.

Humanist Climate Action is a volunteer-led network of Humanists UK members and supporters committed to redefining lifestyles and campaigning for policies that promote low-carbon, ethical, and sustainable living in the light of the degeneration of the Earth’s climate and biodiversity. It aims to bring humanists together to facilitate individual and collective action on these issues.

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.

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