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BHA presents evidence in final day of assisted dying cases in Supreme Court

Today is the forth and final day of the assisted dying cases of Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb in the Supreme Court. The British Humanist Association (BHA) presented its evidence in support of the appellants seeking a declaration that the current law is incompatible with their Article 8 rights.

The cases have been brought by Jane Nicklinson, the widow of Tony Nicklinson, who sought, and who was repeatedly denied an assisted death and Paul Lamb who is seeking the right to an assisted death following his paralysis in a road accident. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has been a party to the case throughout as an intervener and the only organisation supporting these cases. 

The BHA evidence to the court centred around the concepts of dignity, autonomy and self determination.  BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson in his witness statement commented “Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right. The choice of an assisted death should not be instead of palliative care for terminally ill people, but a core part of comprehensive, patient-centred approached to end of life care.”

The BHA evidence also included witness statements from prominent humanist moral philosophers Professors AC Grayling, John Harris, Richard Norman and Simon Blackburn. Professor Blackburn was quoted in court stating “True respect for life means respect for persons whose lives in question-refusing assistance, when their plea is settled and uncoerced discounts and demeans their personhood. We do not normally walk by when asked for help” Professor Grayling was quoted in the BHA evidence stating “Dying is an act of living”.

The novelist and BHA distinguished supporter Sir Terry Pratchett, well known for his advocacy of the right to die, also contributed a witness statement for the BHA stating that “an individual’s personal decision, should I think be honoured, if it’s clearly been made by them, when they’re in a state of compos mentis and in full control of their faculties.” He went on to say that “Either we have control over our lives, or we do not.”

The nine judges also heard evidence from a statement provided by BHA distinguished supporter histopathologist Professor John Lee regarding the withdrawal of food and water in terminal care. He stated “At present, unfortunately, patients, relatives and medical teams often find the law more a set of barrier and obstacles to be overcome in harrowing circumstances, rather than a helpful support to actively manage the inevitable in a caring manner, according to the wishes of, and in the best interest of the individual involved”.

Lawyers from the firm Irwin Mitchell, who are representing the BHA, have observed “The fact that the Supreme Court is putting up a panel of nine judges, headed by the most senior Lord Neuberger, shows how important this case is. This is a landmark moment in the development of the law relating to assisted suicide and will have a major impact in how the situation moves forward over the coming years. “

A judgement will be released at some point in the New Year.


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 represented by Yogi Amin, Conor Maguire and Marcelo Masri (Irwin Mitchell), and Heather Rogers QC, Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Maria Roache (Doughty Street Chambers) on the side of assisted dying.
The case is currently being heard by nine Supreme Court judges. The judges will decide whether the law which prevents assisted suicide contravenes Article 8 of the ECHR which states that everyone “has a right to respect for private and family life.”
Simon Blackburn is emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge.
A C Grayling is Master of the New College of the Humanities.
John Harris is professor of Bioethics at the University of Machester.
Richard Norman is emeritus professor of moral philosophy at the University of Kent.

Professor John A Lee is Professor of Pathology at Hull York Medical School and Consultant Histopathologist at Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust

Polling showing 81% of public support assisted dying:
http://humanism.org.uk/2012/09/07/news-1108/

Previous BHA news article – ‘L’ waives right to anonymity in assisted dying court case:
http://humanism.org.uk/2013/04/18/paul-lamb-l-waives-right-to-anonymity-in-assisted-dying-court-case/

Previous BHA news article – Court of Appeal allows ‘L’ to join Tony Nicklinson Claim:
http://humanism.org.uk/2013/03/20/court-of-appeal-allows-l-to-join-tony-nicklinson-claim/

Previous BHA news article – New case to test rules on assisted dying in UK:
http://humanism.org.uk/2011/08/19/news-873/

The BHA’s campaign on Assisted Dying:
http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

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