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Noel Conway loses Court of Appeal assisted dying case

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.

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