- Decision comes as new figures reveal that one Brit travels to Switzerland for an assisted death every week
- Justice Secretary announces he is “actively considering” a call for evidence on the UK’s current law on assisted dying, following a Westminster Hall debate last week
- Date for New Zealand’s assisted dying referendum, a world first, set for 19 September 2020
The Court of Appeal has refused permission for a judicial review on assisted dying, brought by a terminally ill man with motor neurone disease. Phil Newby, a 49-year-old father-of-two from Rutland, asked the Courts to undertake a “detailed examination of the evidence” to determine whether the blanket ban on assisted dying is compatible with his human rights. Phil and his legal team had appealed against a decision from the High Court in November 2019 which denied his case permission to proceed, but were unsuccessful.
Phil’s case was the first time assisted dying had been heard by the Courts since Noel Conway’s case was rejected by the Supreme Court in November 2018. Phil had asked the courts to examine a large body of evidence and to cross-examine experts, a departure from the norm.
The decision comes as Dignitas, the Swiss assisted dying organisation, published its figures for 2019 yesterday. They reveal that 42 Brits were assisted to die there last year, up from 24 in 2018. Life Circle, another Swiss organisation, revealed in correspondence with Dignity in Dying that 11 Brits were assisted to die there in 2019, down from 19 in 2018. This now means that one British person travels to Switzerland for an assisted death at least every seven days, up from one every eight days in recent years [note that these figures do not include other Swiss organisations such as Ex International, which do not make their figures publicly available].
These developments come days after MPs discussed assisted dying at a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday 23rd January, during which a majority of speakers backed an inquiry into the functioning and impact of current legislation. The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, announced on Sunday 26th January that he will “actively consider” a call for evidence on the matter, following calls from across society.
Overseas, a date has been set in New Zealand for the world’s first public vote on assisted dying legislation, after a bill passed Third Reading in November 2019. The referendum will take place on 19 September 2020. Western Australia is due to implement an assisted dying law in the coming months, after Victoria became the first Australian state to do so in June 2019. These jurisdictions join nine American states, plus the District of Columbia, which have also enacted assisted dying laws.
Reacting to the Court of Appeal decision on his case, Phil said:
“Whilst I am thoroughly disappointed that the Appeal Court has refused my case a hearing, this decision has made it clear that judges will not engage on the issue of assisted dying, which means that it is down to Parliament to act. Support for an inquiry into the evidence on assisted dying is growing among MPs, as demonstrated by the debate last week and subsequent announcement from the Justice Secretary.
“There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating the impact that the current law is having on families like mine up and down the country, and of safe practice in the many other countries that developed laws that provide dying people with choice. With the courts refusing to even hear cases like mine, now is the time for MPs to take really account of that evidence and consider how our cruel current law can work better for patients and families. An intelligently crafted assisted dying law is desperately needed.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“While it is disappointing that the courts have refused to examine this issue, there are now growing calls for the Ministry of Justice to lead a Government inquiry to examine how our outdated laws on assisted dying affect terminally ill people like Phil, their families, the police and other public services.
“The Justice Secretary should be commended for considering a call for evidence, following campaigning by Dignity in Dying and families who have been criminalised under the current law, lobbying from Police and Crime Commissioners across the country, and support from MPs from all parties, most recently at a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday. The resounding message is that the current law simply does not work.
“These latest figures from Switzerland show that banning assisted dying does nothing but drive the practice overseas, thereby forcing terminally ill people and their families to shoulder the cost and risk prosecution in the process. For those who cannot afford the £10k price tag, many are forced to take matters into their own hands, with hundreds of terminally ill people ending their lives in the UK every year. Others without the strength or means to act are forced to suffer unbearably against their wishes in their final weeks and days. Meanwhile, parliamentarians around the world, most recently in New Zealand, are concluding that it is perfectly possible to craft assisted dying legislation that is both compassionate and safe. It’s time for the UK to scrutinise our backward laws, not dying people and their loved ones.”
For more information, photos, and interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Manager at Dignity in Dying on 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editor:
Phil Newby v Secretary of State for Justice
Phil Newby, a 49-year-old man from Rutland, asked the Courts to undertake a “detailed examination of the evidence” to determine whether the blanket ban on assisted dying is compatible with his human rights. Following a hearing at the High Court on 22 October 2019, a decision was handed down denying the case permission to proceed on 19 November 2019. Phil and his legal team sought to appeal the decision, but were unsuccessful.
Phil’s case was the first time assisted dying had been heard by the British courts since the Noel Conway v Sectretary of State for Justice case, which was rejected by the Supreme Court in November 2018.
Noel, a 70-year-old man from Shropshire who also has motor neurone disease, sought a judicial review challenging the current blanket ban on assisted dying. Noel’s case was heard at the High Court on 17-20 July 2017. A written judgment was handed down in 5 October 2017, rejecting the judicial review claim. Noel and his legal team were granted permission to appeal this decision on 18 January 2018, and a hearing took place at the Court of Appeal on 1-3 May 2018. A judgment was handed down on 27 June 2018 rejecting the case. Noel and his legal team applied to the Supreme Court to appeal this decision, and a permissions hearing took place on 22 November 2018. The appeal was rejected on 27 November 2018. In their decision the Supreme Court Justices made clear the importance of the issues raised by the case for society, commenting that “No-one doubts that this issue is of transcendent public importance”. The decision also confirmed that “the ban on assisted suicide is an interference with the right to respect for private life protected by article 8” [the right to private life].
Assisted dying proposals in the British Isles and Crown Dependencies
A Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying took place on 23 January 2020. The functioning and impact of the current law was debated at a backbench business committee debate in July 2019. Proposals for assisted dying legislation were last debated in the Commons in September 2015.
The Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald, debated assisted dying at its January sitting on 22 January 2020. It last debated legislation in 2015.
Jersey’s Council of Ministers announced in 2019 that it would undertake detailed research into the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation.
The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands voted in favour of two motions on assisted dying in July 2018 (that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, and that should legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it).
The States of Guernsey last debated assisted dying proposals in May 2018.
The House of Commons last debated an assisted dying bill in September 2015.
Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in ten US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine (June 2019).
Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. Western Australia voted to legalise a similar bill in December 2019.
New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum in 2020 after the legislation passed third reading in November 2019.
Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016. As a result of the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in Carter v Canada in February 2015, the Canadian government introduced assisted dying legislation in June 2016.
The Royal College of GPs is set to announce the results of a membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020.
The British Medical Association is due to launch its first ever membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020.
Last year, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.
About Dignity in Dying
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public (Populus, 2019).
Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.