Announcing the death of Paul Lamb, right to die campaigner who took his case to the Supreme Court
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.’