Noel Conway loses Court of Appeal assisted dying case

Humanist and assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway.

In a blow for assisted dying campaigners everywhere, Noel Conway has today lost his claim at the Court of Appeal for the right to die. Noel, who is a member of Humanists UK and is being supported by Dignity in Dying, has motor neurone disease, which is terminal and incurable. He is seeking the right to an assisted death for those terminally ill and with six months or fewer to live. Humanists UK intervened in support of Noel’s challenge, and is disappointed at the outcome.

Humanists UK worked with humanist philosophers Simon Blackburn and John Harris to craft its intervention. Both filed witness statements examining the underlying ethics of the situation, reflecting Humanists UK’s unique interdisciplinary expertise at the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy, and the law. Humanists UK adopted a similar approach in the Supreme Court cases of R (Nicklinson and Lamb) v Ministry of Justice; R (AM) v DPP (also concerned with assisted dying) and Re: Re: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (about abortion in Northern Ireland). Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson also submitted evidence on the views of people with motor neurone disease on assisted dying, which showed significant support for a change in the law. Humanists UK also made written and oral legal submissions.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are disappointed by the outcome of Noel Conway’s appeal, and very much hope there is a further appeal to the Supreme Court. It is simply wrong that people in this country who are of sound mind, and are terminally ill or incurably suffering, are denied the choice, dignity, and autonomy to be able to have assistance to end their lives at a time and in a manner of their choosing.

‘The expectation all the way through this case has been that it is the Supreme Court that is most likely to move past its previous decision in Nicklinson, and we will now look to that Court to do so.

Hodge Jones & Allen LLP’s Nancy Collins, who is representing Humanists UK in the case, commented, ‘Despite the strength and clarity of the arguments advanced by Mr Conway and the forceful submissions made by Humanists UK, the Court of Appeal has adopted a cautious approach to the critical question of the right to die. It is concerning that such little progress has been made through the judicial process despite the compelling evidence of an urgent need to a change to the prohibition on assisted dying. It is vital that this issue remains under review by the judiciary and it is hoped that Mr Conway’s case will progress speedily to the Supreme Court.’

The news comes a day after a poll conducted for the Daily Mirror found that three-quarters of the public back assisted dying for terminally ill people, with 63 percent saying likewise for those who are not terminally ill but are incurably suffering.

Details of the case

Noel Conway is a 68-year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease, who is supported by Dignity in Dying in his legal challenge to the illegality of assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and have six months or fewer to live. He has brought judicial review proceedings seeking a declaration that the prohibition against assisted suicide in section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with his right to private and family life, protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. He was unsuccessful in the High Court, and today’s judgment follows his appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Humanists UK submitted witness statements from Simon Blackburn, John Harris, and Andrew Copson, and made oral and written submissions. Humanists UK was represented in its intervention by Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.

Separately, another Humanists UK member, ‘Omid T’, is bringing a case to also challenge the fact that those who are incurably suffering cannot access an assisted death. His case has had a preliminary hearing at the High Court, and its decision is awaited.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read Humanists UK’s previous comment, on the conclusion of the High Court hearing:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Statement on Outcome of Guernsey Vote

We’re disappointed that the requête in Guernsey has been voted down by State members.

By attempting to legislate for assisted dying, Guernsey has shown compassion and leadership and attracted applause and solidarity on the world stage.

Stakeholders as far as Australia and the USA engaged with the process on the island, offering support to members proposals and working with campaigners.

The members supporting the requête are to be applauded for their empathetic and professional approach to dying peoples predicaments, at the heart of this debate was always care and concern for terminally ill islanders and the hope of providing them with reassurance and a good death.

Unsurprisingly, much of the opposition was ill informed and reliant on hypothetical scenarios which have not played out overseas. Much can be learnt from jurisdictions in both Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia – all countries who have grasped the nettle and legislated for assisted dying based on the needs of their own citizens.

It is encouraging that conversations around death and dying have opened up as a result of the Guernsey assisted dying requête and we are hopeful that this comes back as a major election issue in 2020. There is already a majority support amongst candidates in Jersey and we offer our continued support to members and campaigners looking to take this issue forward. Momentum is growing globally and we look forward to the day when dying people have the choice of an assisted death to ease their suffering.

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