Court of Appeal offers glimmer of hope to Noel Conway in his appeal to die
In the ongoing case for the right to an assisted death, the Court of Appeal last week granted permission to Humanists UK to submit further appeals on behalf of its member Noel Conway.
Mr Conway, who has motor neurone disease, is seeking to change the law to make assisted dying legal for those who are terminally ill with six months or fewer to live. Mr Conway lost his case at the High Court in October and is now seeking to have that decision overturned.
“The issue at stake in this appeal is fundamentally important: the right of those with terminal illnesses to choose when and how they die. This right has been recognised in other jurisdictions and Mr Conway’s case provides an opportunity to change the current ban on assisted dying in England and Wales.
“A change in the law would alleviate the terrible difficulties faced by people like Mr Conway and their families who wish to decide for themselves when they are ready to die. Humanists UK provides crucial evidence and insight into the wishes of people like Mr Conway.”
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “It is morally wrong that the UK is denying individuals such as Noel Conway the opportunity to die with dignity at a time and in a manner of their choosing. As more and more jurisdictions around the world are responding to demands for recognition, we very much hope the UK soon joins them.”
Humanists UK worked with philosophy professors Simon Blackburn and John Harris to craft its appeal. Both submitted witness statements examining the underlying ethics involved, reflecting Humanists UK’s unique interdisciplinary expertise at the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy and the law.
Humanists UK has adopted a similar approach before, including in the Supreme Court cases Nicklinson (also concerned with assisted dying) and NIHRC (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.
Details of the case
Noel, who is supported by Dignity in Dying, is challenging the illegality of assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and have six months or fewer to live. His case will be heard by the Court of Appeal between 30 April – 4 May.
In addition to the witness statements from Simon Blackburn, John Harris, and Andrew Copson, Humanists UK will also be making oral and written submissions. Humanists UK is being represented in its intervention by Nancy Collins of Hodge Jones & Allen alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.
Noel’s case is brought using article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, arguing that section 2 of the Suicide Act interferes with his right to private and family life.
Noel’s decision at the High Court represents some advance over the previous decision, in the challenge brought to the Supreme Court in 2014 by Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb. There, the court decided that as the issue was such a high profile ethical debate, Parliament should first of all have a chance to decide the matter, before the courts do. However, in 2015 the House of Commons rejected an Assisted Dying Bill. So, the judges decided for the first time that the court should now engage with the substantial issues at hand. Unfortunately, however, the court decided that preventing Noel from being able to access an assisted death is legitimate under the Convention.
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, which is currently awaiting its decision.
For further information, please contact:
Nicola Pearson at Black Letter Communications on 020 3567 1208 or at
Notes for Editors
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