25th June – 10 year anniversary of historic assisted dying ruling

Tuesday 25 June will mark a decade since the historic judgement that ruled against the right to die. The ruling of R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice made on 25 June 2014 by the Supreme Court, found it was up to parliament to decide on the matter of assisted dying. Humanists UK would like to commemorate the bravery of the Nicklinson family and all those who have fought for their right to die, and we hope the next parliament will finally change the law.

Tony Nicklinson suffered a severe stroke and suffered from Locked-in Syndrome, being paralysed from the neck down. He described his life as a ‘living nightmare’ and campaigned for the right to die. He took his case to the high court, which ruled against him in 2012He died two weeks later of pneumonia after refusing all food and treatment.

His family and other claimants took their case through the court of appeal and subsequently the Supreme Court. On 25 June 2014, it ruled against the Nicklinsons. Two judges in the case, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr, made a dissenting decision, arguing that the law should be changed.

Lady Hale and the Nicklinson family will speak at our event on the 26 June. She will reflect on the significance of the Nicklinson case and its enduring impact on the discourse surrounding assisted dying.

Journalists who wish to attend the event should contact nathan@humanists.uk

Lady Hale said:

‘Nearly ten years ago, the Supreme Court decided the cases of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, incurably suffering but not terminally ill men who wanted and needed help to take their own lives in the time and manner of their choosing. Five of the nine Justices held that the Court could make a declaration that the current law banning assisted suicide was incompatible with the human rights of people like Tony Nicholson and Paul Lamb, but three of those five said that Parliament should be given the opportunity of putting things right first (the other four said that it was a matter for Parliament alone).

But Parliament has not put things right, despite all the evidence that the public would support a change in the law. And such proposals as have been debated are limited to terminally ill people with only a few months to live. They would not help people like Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb. Of course, there must be proper safeguards to make sure that their decisions are freely made. But it is cruel and inhumane to force them to go on living against their will.’

The Right Honourable Baroness Hale of Richmond served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 until her retirement in 2020.

Nathan Stilwell, Assisted Dying Campaigner for Humanists UK, said:

‘On Tuesday we will pause to think and remember Tony Nicklinson, the brave assisted dying campaigner who fought earnestly for his right to a compassionate death. Tony wasn’t terminally ill, but all the previous attempts to change the law have been limited to people who are terminally ill with six months or fewer left to live. That is wrong.

‘We will be fascinated to hear what Lady Hale, one of the central figures in this debate, has to say on this ten-year anniversary. For far too long, parliament has failed to tackle the assisted dying debate, and I hope the next parliament will give choice and compassion to those who want it.”

Humanists UK’s policy is that any adult of sound mind who is intolerably suffering from an incurable, physical condition and has a clear and settled wish to die should have the option of an assisted death. This includes adults with conditions like multiple sclerosis and locked-in syndrome, which are not terminal but can cause unbearable suffering without any possible relief. People with these conditions should not be omitted from assisted dying legislation.