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Noel Conway loses right to die appeal

In a bitter blow for Noel Conway and assisting dying campaigners everywhere, the Court of Appeal today turned down Mr Conway’s appeal for the right to die. Despite expressing ‘deep sympathy’ with Mr Conway’s circumstances, the judges unanimously agreed that a decision on assisted suicide should be made by Parliament rather than the courts.

Noel, 68, who is a member of Humanists UK and supported by Dignity in Dying, has motor neurone disease and is seeking the right to an assisted death for those terminally ill with six months or fewer to live. He launched his court action early last year.

Civil Liberties lawyer Nancy Collins from London solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen representing Humanists UK in the case said:

“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 very worrying that such little progress has been made through the judicial process despite the compelling evidence of an urgent need for change to the prohibition on assisted dying. It is vital that this issue remains under review by the judiciary and I hope that Mr Conway’s case will progress quickly to the Supreme Court.”

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 focus on the intersection of medical ethics, moral philosophy and the law.

Humanists UK adopted a similar approach 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, which showed significant support for a change in the law. Humanists UK also made written and oral submissions.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, “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.”

Details of the case

  • 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 alongside Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme Hall, both of Doughty Street Chambers.
  • Noel’s case was 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. He was unsuccessful in the High Court, and today’s judgment follows his appeal to the Court of Appeal.
  • 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 is currently awaiting a decision.