Opinion Former Article

BHA: Right to die with dignity is a fundamental human right

The legal cases of Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, who wish to establish the right to an assisted death, will be heard at the Supreme Court this week.

Jane Nicklinson is continuing the legal case of her late husband Tony Nicklinson, the right-to-die campaigner who was paralysed after a catastrophic stroke in 2005, and who died last year after refusing food. 

Paul Lamb, who was immobilised after a road accident in 1990, also wishes to establish the right to an assisted death, and his case was joined to that of Jane Nicklinson earlier this year. 

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which is a long-standing supporter of a change in the law on assisted dying, is intervening in support of Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb’s case.

Tony Nicklinson was a passionate campaigner who brought the issue of assisted dying to the public’s attention, and he died in August last year.  Jane Nicklinson is continuing his fight to establish the right to die, and is pursuing a claim in her own right under Article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Paul Lamb is 57, and says that in the past twenty-three years he has endured a life which is monotonous and painful, and that he no longer wants to live.  In April this year the Court of Appeal decided that his case to establish the right to die could be joined to that of Jane Nicklinson.

In July this year, the Court of Appeal dismissed their case, but it has now proceeded to the Supreme Court, and a panel of nine Supreme Court judges will hear arguments in the case on Monday and Tuesday.  There is massive public support for a change in the law on assisted dying: A YouGov poll last year found that 81% of UK adults support the notion of mentally competent individuals with incurable or terminal diseases who wish to end their lives receiving medical assistance to do so, without those assisting them facing prosecution.

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs commented ‘This legal case is necessary to establish that being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing, should be understood to be a fundamental human right. The BHA has intervened in support of these brave individuals in this case, and the evidence which we have submitted, which was in part prepared by prominent moral philosophers focuses on the obligation to alleviate suffering, the principle of personal autonomy, and the right of mentally competent adults to make decisions about their lives, as long as they do not result in harm to others.  We hope that the Supreme Court judges will listen to the large majority in this country which supports a change in the law on assisted dying, and rule in favour of the right to a doctor-assisted death for the permanently incapacitated and incurably suffering.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.
The BHA is also intervening in support of ‘Martin’, the claimant who is seeking clarification from the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on whether receiving assistance to travel to Switzerland for an assisted death there would fall within the definition of the criminal offence of assisting a suicide.  In July, ‘Martin’ won his case, with the Court of Appeal ruling that there should be further clarification on this.  However his case has also proceeded to the Supreme Court, because the DPP is appealing against this ruling.  More details in this previous BHA article: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/07/31/assisted-suicide-cases-rejected-by-court-of-appeal/
Previous BHA news article - New poll shows strong public support for assisted dying:
https://humanism.org.uk/2012/09/07/news-1108/
Read about the BHA’s campaigning on Assisted Dying: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

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