The Assisted Dying Coalition is the UK and Crown dependencies coalition of organisations working in favour of legal recognition of the right to die, for individuals who have a clear and settled wish to end their life and who are terminally ill or facing incurable suffering.

Below you can find some news updates from our members. Elsewhere on the site you can also find more about us, our members, and our personnel, and how to get in touch.

Conversations about Death and Dying Report

We held a very successful conference at the start of September. Speakers included Dr Naomi Richards, Dr Lonny Shavelson, Professor Celia Kitzinger, Adrian Ward and Mark Hazelwood. Copies of presentations can be found below.

Ahead of the conference Dr Shavelson spoke with BBC Radio Scotland. You can listen again to this here.

The conference was chaired by Rev Scott Mckenna who opened the conference by talking about assisted dying within a religious context. The Rev McKenna also spoke about the need for compassion at the end of life and that the move away from a paternalistic approach means we need to listen to each other about our wishes to ensure we have a good death.

Those who attended the conference heard about how Medical Aid in Dying worked in California, about the need for Advance Directives and what Incapacity means in Scottish Law.

C Kitzinger Presentation

A Ward Presentation

S Paul Presentation

N Richards Presentation

J Ramsey Presentation

D Grenham Presentation

L Shavelson Presentation

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Friends at the End Mourns the Death of Omid T

It is with great sadness that we hear of Omid’s death at the Lifecircle assisted dying clinic in Switzerland today.  Omid T was awaiting judgment from the High Court on his legal challenge seeking a change in the law on assisted dying,  challenge which was supported by Friends at the End.

Whilst a relief to know that Omid is finally at peace and that he died on his own terms, the frustration and injustice of his death in Switzerland is profound.
Omid, who our CEO Amanda Ward met on a number of occasions was witty, funny, charming and friendly to everyone he came across. He was also a very sick and profoundly disabled man, who should not have had to leave his home, the UK, to travel abroad to get the relief he so craved.
We are convinced that if our politicians experienced the pain and suffering Omid, his family, and the hundreds of others who have travelled abroad for a peaceful death have had to endure, they’d not want that for themselves or any of our citizens.
We are past the point of turning a blind eye – elected representatives must listen to their constituents, the overwhelming majority of whom support a safe controlled UK assisted dying law and act now.
Omid was a kind, compassionate, charming character – he’d already been through so much with his illness and he deserved better than having to take matters in to his own hands.

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Humanists UK mourns death of assisted dying campaigner Omid T who has died in Switzerland

Humanists UK member Omid T, who was awaiting judgement from the High Court on his legal case seeking to change the law on assisted dying, has died this morning at the assisted dying clinic Lifecircle in Switzerland, Humanists UK has announced.

Omid had multiple system atrophy (MSA) and Humanists UK has been supporting his legal case.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of our member Omid T, who ended his life with medical assistance at Lifecircle in Switzerland today.

‘It is a tragedy, and also a national scandal, that Omid had to go to Switzerland to die with dignity. His desire was for a peaceful ending to his life here in England and his case underscores the need for our Parliament to allow people in his position the dignity of choice in their own country.

‘While not terminally ill, Omid was suffering immensely from his condition. He was bedridden, unable to move without assistance, in pain every day and found his life intolerable.

‘Of course, in any assisted dying law there must be strict legal safeguards in place. But being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must also be understood to be a fundamental human right. Omid’s fight to change the law and claim that right for all of us will be his enduring legacy.

‘Omid was a passionate humanist and lived his own life to its fullest. Our deepest condolences are with his family, friends, and everyone else who was touched by his life.’

Update: On 9 October 2018, five days after Omid died at the Lifecircle clinic in Switzerland, the High Court ruled against Omid’s legal team in a preliminary matter to his challenge to the assisted dying law. His team had argued that they wanted to be able to cross-examine expert witnesses at the hearing but it was determined that they could not. How his case proceeds from here remains to be seen.

In handing down its decision, the court expressed sympathy and sadness for Omid’s case.

Omid’s story

When Omid first announced his case he told his story as follows:

‘I was born in Iran and came to the UK aged 12 in August 1975. I am a British Citizen. I started working at the age of 17 and have worked all my life  as a property developer until about 2008, when the first signs of my illness appeared.

‘I have also experienced the joy of being married and having children. I married my wife on 10th August 1990, aged 27 and we have 3 children. We separated on 30th March 2015. I don’t want people to see me suffering and  don’t want my children to remember me as I am now. This is my choice, rather than theirs.

‘The first signs of my illness were that my speech became very slurred and when I spoke on my mobile the listener could not understand me. I also began to experience difficulty in walking, writing and with other tasks.

‘In 2014, I was diagnosed with the incurable illness, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), by consultants at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Now I am largely confined to my bed, have to wear a catheter bag and need help with all my personal care. My speech has deteriorated and the muscle weakness continues apace.

‘I tried to end my life by taking an overdose in 2015, but I failed! I don’t have the ability to take my own life anymore and I don’t want to botch it up again anyway.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Details of the case

Omid has been represented by Saimo Chahal QC (Hon) of Bindmans LLP and Paul Bowen QC of Brick Court Chambers, who previously represented Tony and Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, and Debbie Purdy before that as well. Humanists UK was intending to intervene in his case, working with Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.

A court order prevents the name, address, or schools of Omid’s wife and children, or any personal details about them, including their photographs or images, from being published, as he did not want them to be contacted or disturbed in any way. Omid is referred to as Omid or T and his surname and the address of his home cannot be disclosed, under the terms of the same court order.

Omid had a preliminary hearing on some aspects of his case before the High Court earlier this year. A judgment on that preliminary hearing is expected shortly.

Read our previous news statement on Omid T’s case at: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/omid-granted-permission-to-challenge-illegality-of-assisted-dying/

Omid T was represented by Bindmans LLP. Read its statement: https://www.bindmans.com/news/omid-t

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/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.

Conversations About Death and Dying – Radio Interview

In the run up to our conference Dr Lonny Shavelson spoke on BBC Radio Scotland along with Gordon Macdonald (Care Not Killing) and Rona Tynan (MS patient from Inverness).   You can listen in here starting at 2.22.00.

Lonny spoke about the need for change and about how the choice is made by a small number of people and that across the 7 states who have legal medical aid in dying in the US he has yet to come across a situation where someone has made the choice to use this option due to family pressure.

Rona spoke about how she felt it is cruel to not let someone end their life peacefully, and that we need to recognise that there is no one size fits all in end of life care and services need to be geared up to meet individual needs.

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Falkland Islands’ legislature passes motions in favour of assisted dying

The Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly has voted in favour of a motion to support the right of terminally ill islanders to choose a dignified assisted death, by a margin of four votes to three, with one abstention. The Legislative Assembly also passed a second motion stating that in the event that assisted dying is legalised in the UK, the Falklands Islands will also introduce it. Humanists UK, which campaigns for a change in law to allow those who are the terminally ill or incurably suffering to have an assisted death, welcomes this vote.

These motions on the Falkland Islands follow debates in the crown dependencies of Guernsey and Jersey on assisted dying. In May, the States of Guernsey Assembly voted against proposals which were brought forward by Chief Minister Gavin St Pier and were supported by Channel Islands Humanists and Humanists UK.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Although this vote does not directly change the law on Falkland Islands, it is indicative of growing support for change across the UK, crown dependencies, and overseas territories. The Falkland Islands are leading way on this issue.

‘As medical science has become more advanced, so too has our ability to keep people alive for longer than ever before. This development in science is to be welcomed but it also means that many people end up suffering for longer before they die. The motions on which the Falkland Islands has voted, therefore, are needed more now than at any other time in our history.’

Notes

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

In 2013-14, Humanists UK intervened in support of Tony and Jane Nicklinson’s and Paul Lamb’s attempts to overhaul the law on assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering by taking human rights cases through the courts. Humanists UK also supported subsequent attempts in the UK Parliament to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill.

This year, Humanists UK intervened in the Court of Appeal case of its member Noel Conway, who is terminally ill, and is intending to do the same in the anticipated High Court case of its member Omid T, who is seeking to also allow assisted dying for those who are not terminally ill but are incurably suffering.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/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.

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.

Notes

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

Read Humanists UK’s previous comment, on the conclusion of the High Court hearing: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/07/20/noel-conways-assisted-dying-hearing-concludes-in-high-court/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/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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