Success! Assisted Dying Bill introduced on the Isle Of Man

In a great victory for campaigners, an assisted dying bill has been introduced by Dr Alex Allinson in the Isle of Man today. Members of the island’s parliament voted 22 to 2 for the Bill to be introduced. We have supported our friends “Let Me Choose”, a grassroots organisation in the Isle of Man who have been pushing for a compassionate assisted dying law. We have partnered with Let Me Choose through the assisted dying coalition.

The Bill would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults the choice of an assisted death. A Citizen’s Jury in Jersey voted for a broader bill that would include the incurably and intolerably suffering. In December 2021, Jersey’s States Assembly voted to support assisted dying ‘in principle’.

A public consultation in the Isle of Man is expected to be held over the summer and a draft bill should be available by the end of the year. This will then be reviewed by a committee of the Tynwald (Isle of Man’s parliament).

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, said:

“With Jersey, Isle of Man and Scotland having now taken significant steps on the road to an assisted dying law in their jurisdictions, Parliament at Westminster is lagging woefully behind. We know that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of a compassionate law for England and Wales, which is why we continue to call for an inquiry. That way, politicians can hear and scrutinise the evidence brought forward from all sides of the debate.

Our current laws are broken, protracting the suffering of the terminally ill and those with painful and incurable conditions. We call upon Parliament to do the right thing and give people the choice to end their intolerable suffering when they decide.”

Notes:

For any more information or comment please contact My Death, My Decision at: campaigns@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.

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Queen’s Speech: Assisted dying and inclusive assemblies bills fall

Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill and Baroness Burt’s Inclusive Assemblies Bill have both fallen. This has happened because any private members’ bills that are still outstanding on the day of a Queen’s Speech have their progress halted. Humanists UK has expressed its dismay at the outcome.

The Assisted Dying Bill related to England and Wales, and reached the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. The Inclusive Assemblies Bill focused on England, and was brought by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Vice-Chair Baroness Burt. It completed its passage through the Lords but ran out of time in the Commons, where it had been taken over by APPHG Chair Crispin Blunt MP.

A recent ONS study revealed that serious health conditions more than double the suicide rate, further showing the need for a compassionate, safeguarded assisted dying law.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘The Government claims to take a neutral position on assisted dying, but simultaneously refused to give enough time for this important bill to be fully debated and voted on. This is a de-facto opposition to assisted dying and keeps our broken current law in place.’

‘We’re now calling for an assisted dying inquiry, as that would equip parliamentarians with the necessary knowledge to conduct an informed debate and vote on this important issue. The clear majority of the public wants a compassionate assisted dying law and for the Government to respect their autonomy.’

Meanwhile, the UK is the only sovereign state in the world to mandate Christian worship in state schools as standard – a bizarre and unfair anachronism in a society where surveys suggest that approximately 50% of the population are now non-religious.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘We know that the public is in favour of abolishing compulsory collective worship but by allowing the Inclusive Assemblies Bill to fall, the Government has failed to enable schools to keep pace with modern Britain. We would like to thank Baroness Burt and Crispin Blunt MP, the Bill’s sponsors in the Lords and Commons respectively. This issue will not go away – Humanists UK will ensure it is kept high on the agenda.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should 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 our amendment to the assisted dying bill.

Read the ONS study on suicides among people diagnosed with severe health conditions.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.

Read our article on the Inclusive Assemblies Bill completing its passage through the House of Lords.

Read our article on the poll finding the majority of parents don’t think the collective worship law should be enforced.

Read our article on the Government saying it will ‘remind schools of their duty’ to carry out Christian collective worship.

Read our article on the UN Committee pressing the UK to repeal collective worship laws.

Read more about our work on collective worship.

In 2019, Humanists UK launched a groundbreaking resource hub called Assemblies for All, providing hundreds of free inclusive assemblies for schools.

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.

Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill Fails

Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill has failed. This leaves the frustrating prospect of no debates, votes or upcoming legislation in parliament on assisted dying. A recent ONS study revealed that serious health conditions more than double the suicide rate, further showing the need for a compassionate, safeguarded assisted dying law.

The assisted dying bill in the House of Lords has fallen because the Government would not allow parliamentary time to debate it. The bill received over 200 amendments at the Committee Stage, and as it will not be included in the next parliamentary session the bill automatically falls. My Death, My Decision, along with Humanist UK, submitted an amendment calling for the creation of an inquiry into the impact of this proposed assisted dying legislation for people who are of sound mind and not terminally ill but suffering intolerably with an irreversible physical condition.

The Government claims to take a neutral position on assisted dying, but simultaneously refuses to give enough time for this important issue to be debated and voted on. This is a de-facto opposition to assisted dying and keeps our broken law in place.

An assisted dying inquiry would equip parliamentarians with the necessary knowledge to conduct an informed debate and vote on this important issue. The clear majority of the public wants a compassionate assisted dying law and for the government to respect their autonomy.

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, said:

“The failure of the Meacher Bill is a reflection of the government’s refusal to engage with the critical social justice issue of assisted dying. If the government will not introduce legislation in Parliament, we call upon it instead to establish a parliamentary inquiry and implement its recommendations. That way, it can remain neutral.

An inquiry would enable expert evidence to be heard from other countries that have assisted dying, providing also the opportunity to test the often alarmist claims of opponents. With multiple jurisdictions now considering or about to implement an assisted dying law, England and Wales is being left behind. This needs to be remedied without delay, because inaction protracts unnecessary suffering.”

Notes:

For any more information or comment please contact My Death, My Decision at: campaigns@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.

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Dr Henry Marsh: Why the opponents to assisted dying are wrong

I must start with a declaration of interest. I have advanced prostate cancer. I am currently in remission. I have operated on hundreds of  men who were becoming paralysed from prostatic  metastases in the spine, so I am what you might call an informed consumer.

Surgery only postpones paralysis in most cases – many of my patients would eventually have died bed bound, paralysed and doubly incontinent. This quite probably – though not inevitably – will be my fate. Metastatic disease in the bones can be very painful, but this possibility troubles me less than the loss of autonomy and dignity that comes with irreversible paralysis leading to death. Pain can be treated – although it should be remembered that the treatment can have very distressing side effects.  I accept that I might not opt for Assisted Dying (AD) in the event, were it to be available, but don’t we all want, if possible, to die peacefully, ideally in our own bed, surrounded by our family, without prolonged indignity and suffering beforehand? Legalizing AD is simply about fulfilling this fundamental human wish. It is also, after all, the aim of all palliative care.  Why are a small number of people so implacably opposed to AD, when opinion polls in the UK show an overwhelming majority in favour of it?

The opponents to AD produce little, if any, convincing evidence to justify their opposition. We might reply, quoting Bertrand Russell, that if you produce no evidence in support of your argument, we don’t need to produce any evidence to disagree with you. But it is important to understand that there is now evidence about how AD works in practice, as it has been legalized in so many countries.  As John Maynard Keynes is said to have asked: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” 

I am not going to spend time going over the arguments in favour of AD in any detail as I want to concentrate on the arguments against it, but would make two points:

Firstly: There is what the lawyers call an a priori case for AD – suicide is not against the law, so you must produce good reasons as to why it should be illegal to help somebody do something that is not illegal.  It is worth pointing out that there is all the difference between assisting suicide for somebody who has made a considered request for it, and actively encouraging it. The 1961 Suicide Act, absurdly, fails to recognize this difference. The Serious Crime Act of 2015 has no problem with recognizing coercive behaviour in other areas of life. Encouraging suicide could easily be legislated against.

Secondly: There is clear evidence that there is an unmet demand for AD in this country despite good palliative care, as is shown by the fact that many people (who can afford it) go to Switzerland for an assisted death. The book Last Rights, produced by Dignity in Dying, has many stories of people suffering dreadful deaths despite good palliative care. Besides, as I argued earlier, the loss of autonomy and dignity that dying can so often involve is the commonest reason for opting for AD in surveys of people who have asked for it, rather than just “physical” suffering.

The UK Association of Palliative Medicine is implacably opposed to AD, but it is curious that in the increasing number of jurisdictions where AD is legal, most palliative care doctors have no problem with it. In none of these jurisdictions has there been any move to reverse the legislation – which suggests it is working well.

In most jurisdictions allowing AD, the people opting for it do not fall into “vulnerable” categories ( ie. poor, disabled, socially isolated or depressed, and without good palliative care available to them). The uptake of AD varies from country to country – but the numbers are small.  For instance, in the Netherlands,  about 4% of deaths are assisted, in the state of Oregon in the USA about 0.3%. Different jurisdictions have different criteria for permitting AD, different ways of administering it and different safeguards. The essential feature of the safeguards is to identify coercion, depression and lack of palliative care, and to establish that the patient has mental capacity. All jurisdictions impose a delay and time for patients to change their minds, before any request for AD is granted.

Given the a priori argument, and the evidence that a small, but significant number of people in the UK would opt for AD if it was legalized, why should their wishes be refused? 

The arguments against AD are principally that  people other than those who might currently  request it will suffer if it is permitted. These seemingly pragmatic arguments are used as a smokescreen for a deeper objection to AD as a matter of principle, rather than of practice. The aim is to sow doubt, which is something you do when you have little evidence, or the evidence is against you.

There are several “practical” arguments against AD:

  1. It will be abused, with people being coerced or pressurised into killing themselves.
  2.  It will be a “slippery slope”, making it too easy for “vulnerable” people to kill themselves. It is important, in other words, that suicide remains a difficult and distressing business for all concerned. (It is worth noting the recent ONS Survey that showed that people with non-survivable cancers have a suicide rate 2.6 times higher than matched controls). AD will become a cheap substitute for proper palliative care. Vulnerable people will be made to feel a burden and will kill themselves. There is a glib sound bite for this: “Right to die will become duty to die”.
  3. It will be impossible to design safeguards that will prevent these problems with any certainty.
  4. I will not waste time on certain opponents who are on record as invoking the shades of  Dr Mengele and Harold Shipman, or who claim that emotions are more important than rationality. AD is about patient autonomy, not about licensing doctors to kill patients, nor is it about paternalistic doctors knowing better than their patients as to what is in their best interests.

In England we are entitled to refuse lifesaving treatment, provided we have mental capacity. If there is a risk of coercion with AD, why is there no evidence that vulnerable people are being coerced into refusing treatment at the moment – to clear a hospital bed, for instance, or because relatives are eyeing up the family silver? Nor is there any evidence that significant abuse and coercion are taking place in jurisdictions where AD is permitted. The safeguards prevent it. Likewise, it is legal in the UK to administer “terminal sedation” if a dying patient is suffering intractably, even though the sedation will hasten death, on the grounds that the intent is to treat suffering and not to kill the patient. I am told that in modern palliative care if this is used, it is only after discussion with the patient and family, who make the final decision. In which case, you might ask, why cannot the patient ask for a quick end ( i.e. AD), rather than a slow one?

 There is no evidence that “right to die will become duty to die”. AD is not resulting in queues of people asking for it because they feel they have become a burden.  What is clear is that the current legal situation in the UK means that no right to die is a duty to suffer

There is no evidence that AD has resulted in declining levels of palliative care – AD should be seen as complementary to palliative care, and not in opposition to it.

All medicine is about making decisions in the face of uncertainty, using evidence to balance risks against benefits. We can never be entirely certain. None of the arguments against AD are being borne out in practice. The “slippery slope” is a deeply discriminatory argument that prioritises a small, hypothetical group of patients against a much greater number of real people whose suffering in their final illness could be lessened if their freely made request for AD was granted. Medicine is about preventing suffering as well as about prolonging life.

Medicine is all about evidence – surely the rational solution to the AD problem is to review the evidence and then legislate to permit it, subject to safeguards. As with any medical treatment, the evidence should be carefully collected and analysed, and the legislation changed accordingly if necessary.

The opponents to AH should be challenged to answer two key questions:

  1. Are there any safeguards which in your opinion would make AD acceptable?
  2. Given the strength of feelings on both sides of the argument, would you support an Official Inquiry ( for instance by the House of Commons Health and Social Welfare Committee ) into the matter?

I have little doubt that Assisted Dying will eventually be permitted in England – the evidence in its favour is so strong. I just hope that it is in time for me.

This script is a condensed version of Dr Henry Marsh’s speech at the Doran Lecture, 24th April 2022.

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Serious health conditions more than double suicide rate – ONS

A diagnosis of a serious health condition is associated with an considerably elevated rate of suicide according to new data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Almost 1,000 people with lung and heart conditions died by suicide in England between 2017 and 2020. We join Humanists UK, a fellow member of the Assisted Dying Coalition, in calling for a compassionate assisted dying law in order to introduce much-needed safeguards and support for people who are incurably suffering and terminally ill.

The study found that patients with Huntingtons and Motor Neurone Disease were considerably more likely to die by suicide. One year after a diagnosis of these degenerative neurological conditions, the suicide rate for patients was 107.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The suicide rate for an equivalent control population was 0 per 100,000 people.

People who travelled abroad for the purpose of assisted dying would not appear in the ONS data.

Chair of My Death, My Decision, Trevor Moore comments:

The latest data from the ONS on comparative suicide rates provides yet more evidence to show how our current prohibition on assisted dying must be removed. Far from offering protection, our laws protract unnecessary suffering and cause the vulnerable to take matters into their own hands. This is not only a lonely and harrowing experience for the person involved, it often has life-changing consequences for those they leave behind.

That is why My Death, My Decision campaigns for a compassionate assisted dying law for both the terminally ill and the incurably suffering that would enable people to have control over the end of their lives. We campaign to ensure any law would set out strong safeguards to mitigate the risks to the vulnerable, far more regulated than existing situations in which end of life decisions can be made. Then a person seeking an assisted death can plan a peaceful end to their life when, where and with whom they wish.

We call upon the Justice Secretary to instigate a public inquiry on assisted dying without any further delay.”

Notes:

For any more information or comment please contact My Death, My Decision at: campaigns@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.

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Two arrested after assisted dying campaigner dies in Switzerland

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Protest, Westminster, London, 2020. Photo credit: Jake Owens Photography

It has been reported that two arrests have been made on suspicion of assisting or encouraging suicide, following the death of incurably suffering assisted dying campaigner Sharon Johnston in Switzerland. Ms Johnston was paralysed as a result of falling down the stairs. She spoke publicly about her wish to have an assisted death in a 2021 BBC documentary, When Would You Want to Die? Humanists UK arranged her participation.

The Crown Prosecution Service policy on assisted dying states that prosecutors must take public interest as a factor when reaching decisions.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘We don’t know all the facts of this case. But we do know that the present law means that people can be arrested for assisting others to die when those others are terminally ill or incurably suffering, and the behaviour of those assisting them is entirely motivated by compassion. This is wrong because it robs those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering of the choice, dignity, and autonomy as to when to end their lives.

‘We call on the Government and Parliament to legalise assisted dying and support afford freedom of choice.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should 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 assisted dying.

Crown Prosecution Service launches consultation on public interest guidance in so called ‘mercy killing’ cases

The CPS have launched a public consultation regarding updated guidance on the prosecution of so called ‘mercy killings’ and suicide pacts. The guidance is used to assist prosecutors in determining whether a prosecution is in the public interest. 

The new consultation is running until 8 April 2022 and members of the public can respond on the CPS website here

Mercy killings are defined by the CPS as when an individual ‘believes they are acting wholly out of compassion for the deceased, or at the request of the deceased’. This is as opposed to ‘encouraging or assisting’ the suicide of another person – such as assisting a family member to travel to Switzerland – which is currently punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment under the 1961 Suicide Act.

The draft changes would introduce new guidance regarding public interest factors which tend in favour or against a prosecution. Notably, the guidance tends against prosecution ‘if the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to end their life’.  

In addition, it is proposed that the following sentence be removed from the guidance: Subject to sufficiency of evidence, a prosecution is almost certainly required, even in cases such as ‘mercy killing’ of a sick relative”. The removal of this guidance reflects current practice and recognises that prosecutions in such cases may not be in the public interest. 

The draft revisions bring the guidance closely in line with the Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, which was originally published in 2010 in response to the case of Debbie Purdy. This followed a similar public consultation which attracted over 5000 responses

In 2009 Ms. Purdy successfully argued that it violated her human rights not to know whether her husband would be prosecuted for assisting her to travel to Dignitas, resulting in the House of Lords ordering then Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to clarify when a prosecution would be required in the public interest. 

Whilst the draft updated guidance is welcome to assisted dying campaigners, many are now arguing that this further highlights how current laws are not fit for purpose.

Chair of My Death, My Decision, Trevor Moore comments:

“While a consultation by the Crown Prosecution Service on public interest guidance for ‘mercy killings’ is welcome, it serves to highlight how broken our current system is for dealing with those cases where an individual acts out of compassion in helping one person to end the life of another at their request. What we need is a compassionate assisted dying law that would ensure appropriate safeguards and transparency – something that around 90% of the public support. That is why we call for a full parliamentary, public inquiry. 

We know from other countries where assisted dying is permitted – around 350m people worldwide now have this right – that the option of a medically assisted death is welcomed by those who meet the criteria. We also know that the very fact of having that option gives people comfort and autonomy, often leading to extended lives that might otherwise have ended in a sad or botched suicide.”

Notes:

For any more information or comment please contact My Death, My Decision at: campaigns@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.

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Jersey votes to approve principle of assisted dying

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On 25 November, in a landmark decision, The States Assembly of Jersey voted by 36 to 10 in support of the principle of legalising assisted dying for citizens of the island. The vote is an important step towards the introduction of legislation on the island and a victory for assisted dying campaigners across Britain.

Whilst legislation is currently being considered in both the House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament which would legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill, Jersey has voted for a more inclusive approach which extends to the terminally ill as well as individuals with an incurable physical condition resulting in unbearable suffering. This distinction has long divided assisted dying campaigners, with the legislation proposed in Jersey closely reflecting the aims of My Death My Decision.

This decisive vote comes on the back of the results of the Citizen’s Jury which published its findings on 16 September 2021, and which found that an overwhelming majority of 78% were in favour of changing the law. Citizens Juries or Assemblies are used to engage citizens on a wide range of issues and can be used to inform Government policy and legislation. The Jury was selected at random and consisted of 23 residents who reflect the demographics of the island.

Draft legislation will be debated by the States Assembly in Jersey next year with ratification likely to take place in 2023. This would make Jersey the first jurisdiction in the British Isles and Channel Islands to legalise assisted dying.

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision writes:

‘This news from Jersey is welcome indeed. My Death, My Decision have been supporting our colleagues in the Assisted Dying Coalition, End of Life Choices Jersey, in their campaign, and our board member Robert Ince, in his capacity as President of the International Association for Religious Freedom, gave evidence to the Citizens’ Jury that led to this parliamentary decision. It is welcome that the proposed legislation in Jersey will extend to the unbearably suffering as well the terminally ill. In Scotland assisted dying legislation is also currently being considered which would likely extend to all terminally ill people, without any arbitrary six months life expectancy time limit. It must therefore be only a matter of time before Westminster takes note and respects the overwhelming public support in England and Wales for assisted dying reform. My Death, My Death will continue to call for a parliamentary inquiry, so that politicians can hear – and test – evidence from around the world.’

Notes:

For any more information or comment please contact My Death, My Decision at: campaigns@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.

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Germany’s top court overturns ban on physician-assisted dying

Germany’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a law forbidding professional assistance to die is unconstitutional, in a move that is being seen as a major victory for assisted dying campaigners.

The decision, which centred on a controversial 2015 law – which legalised the right for individuals to purchase life-ending substances for ‘altruistic motives’ but forbade doctors or other professionals from prescribing substances for ‘enterprise purposes’ – found that to deny adults the right to professional assistance unlawfully denies them a ‘right to a self-determined death’.

The judgment has been hailed as a major victory for right-to-die campaigners for clarifying the law for those who are terminally ill, since the Court had already ruled in 2017 doctors could not always deny adults who were ‘seriously and incurably ill’ access to similar drugs.

Previously, the law had meant that any doctor who assisted a patient to end their life could face up to 5 years’ imprisonment, resulting in more than 120 people individually applying for life-ending substances to Germany’s Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices without any professional assistance between 2015 and 2019.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and incurably suffering, has welcomed the decision. Humanists UK is supporting Paul Lamb in his bid to change the law on assisted dying in the UK.

It will now be up to Germany’s Government to propose legislation to bring the law in line with the Court’s ruling.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘There is now an abundance of evidence demonstrating that a balance between respect for an individual’s autonomy and robust safeguards can be achieved under a sensible and transparent law on assisted dying. Yet, whilst more than 150 million people around the world now have the right to a peaceful and painless death, our own law continues to force those who are incurably suffering to die without dignity or compassion. There is a better way forward, and it is time for the UK to follow in the footsteps of our European neighbours.

‘Dying in a manner and at a time of your own choice is a fundamental human right, and we welcome the decision of Germany’s Court decision as yet another affirmation of this.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s assisted dying legal case.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 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.

Medical voices and campaigners urge BMA members to support assisted dying

Around 30 doctors, philosophers, academics, and campaigners have written an open letter urging members of the British Medical Association (BMA) to support assisted dying in its survey which closes this week.

The joint letter, printed in The Guardian today, was organised by the UK Assisted Dying Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a founding member, and follows just days after the Royal College of GPs voted to maintain their opposition to assisted dying, despite a majority of GPs wanting to move to a neutral or supportive position.

Among those who have signed the letter are Professor A.C. Grayling, Professor John Harris, Dr Henry Marsh, Dr Wendy Savage, Melanie Reid MBE, Dr Michael Irwin, The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna, and Professor Raymond Tallis.

The full letter and signatories is below.

As medical practitioners increasingly recognise the importance of autonomy and include the public in the planning and delivery of healthcare, it has become vital to listen to and engage with our patients’ wishes. Yet, when it comes to assisted dying, we have become out of step.

In 2006, the British Medical Association (BMA) moved to oppose assisted dying. Even back then, polls indicated considerable public support for assisted dying, and people rarely travelled abroad to end their life.

But, in the years since, public support for a change in the law has risen to around 90%. Despite the best efforts of palliative care, at least one UK citizen a week is forced to leave their home and travel to Switzerland to have an assisted death – which at best, is a decision fraught with emotional and financial cost, and at worst involves someone ending their life before they would otherwise wish.

It is time for change. Over 150 million people worldwide have gained the option of a safeguarded assisted death, as more countries, including Canada, have changed their laws. If other countries can achieve this in a safe and legal manner, why can’t we?

The BMA’s survey on assisted dying closes this Thursday. We urge members to vote in support of reform.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Carrie Hynds, Chair, Assisted Dying Coalition

Trevor Moore, Chair, My Death, My Decision

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland

Michael Tailbard, Deputy Coordinator, End of Life Choices Jersey

Peter Warren, Chair Executive, Friends at the End

Stacey Adam, Assisted Dying Campaigner

Dr Julian Baggini, Associate reader in philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Helen Beebee, Samuel Hall Professor of Philosophy, University of Manchester

Peter Cave, Lecturer in philosophy for the Open University and City University, London and chair of the Humanist Philosophers Group

Professor Matthew Clayton, Professor of Political Theory, University of Warwick

Professor John Dupré, Professor of Philosophy of Science and Director, University of Exeter

Dr Nicholas Everitt, Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of East Anglia

Professor AC Grayling Master of New College of the Humanities, supernumerary fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and co-editor of the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism

Professor John Harris, Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester, Visiting Professor in Bioethics, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London and Distinguished Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

Dr Alan Haworth, Philosopher and Author

Dr Peter J. King, Lecturer in Philosophy, Pembroke College

Professor Maggie Kinloch, Professor Emerita and former Deputy Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Dr Michael Irwin, Former Medical Director for the United Nations

Dr Henry Marsh, Bestselling author and Neurosurgeon

The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna

Professor Sheila McLean LLB, Emeritus Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, University of Glasgow

Professor Richard Norman, Emeritus professor of moral philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Eric Olson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards, Professor of practical philosophy, University of Oxford

Melanie Reid MBE, Author and Journalist

Dr Wendy Savage, Former member of the GMC and BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee

Dr Martin Scurr, GP and Medical Adviser Doc Martin

Professor Peter Simons, Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Lord Jeremy Purvis

Professor Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine University of Manchester

Nigel Warburton, freelance philosopher

Professor John White, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education, University College London.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

See the letter in The Guardian.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

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