Another incurably suffering man launches new assisted dying challenge

Phil Newby, 48, who suffers from advanced Motor Neurone Disease, has announced his intention to bring a new legal case challenging the UK’s law on assisted dying. 

Phil, who was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition in 2014, is unable to walk and has lost the ability to control movement in his arms and hands. He argues that the UK’s law, which prohibits anyone from assisting him to end his own life, is incompatible with his fundamental human rights to private life and against inhumane treatment. Phil proposes to change the law so as to permit mentally competent adults who are either facing incurable suffering or have a life-shortening progressive degenerative condition which will ultimately lead to death, to request a dignified death. 

Under the 1961 Suicide Act, anyone found guilty of assisting another to end their life could face a maximum of fourteen years’ imprisonment. In 2015, the House of Commons debated but rejected a proposal from Rob Marris MP, which would have legalised assisted dying for those who are likely to die within six months, by 330 votes to 118. 

Phil Newby’s case differs from the proposed case that Paul Lamb, My Death, My Decision’s patron, intends to bring forward, as Phil intends to follow the successful approach which overturned the law on assisted dying in Canada and was intended to underline in the landmark Omid T case, before he ended his life at Lifecircle in Switzerland. This means that, if granted permission, the UK’s most senior judges will be invited to comprehensively review the evidence on assisted dying, before ruling on its compatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998.  

Phil Newby has issued a letter to the Justice Secretary and received a response, but is asking for support from the public to cover experts’ expenses and legal fees before he can progress. He has already raised over £18,000.

Phil Newby said:

“I’ve come to accept that MND will eventually kill me, but I’m determined to enjoy life and contribute to my family for as long as I possibly can. When the time comes, I would like compassionate medical help to die in peace at home, with my family. Instead, my wife and girls face watching me starve, choke or suffocate to death, because of our inhumane and outdated laws that criminalise assisted dying.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Other countries have introduced a compassionate and common-sense assisted dying legal framework, with safeguards. 

This case will be the biggest fight of my life, and I can’t do it alone. I’m asking the public to support me by sharing my story and donating to our legal fund through CrowdJustice. Our legal strategy seems to be winning plaudits from members of the public, journalists, and commentators alike, because it simply asks for our senior judges to carefully examine the evidence for and against assisted dying. Together, we can make a change.” 

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision said:

“Now more than ever, as society has become increasingly adept at extending the length of life, but not always its quality, the right to decide the manner and timing of your own death should be seen as a fundamental human right. We welcome Phil Newby’s decision to challenge our country’s archaic stance on assisted dying, and stand up for those who are of sound mind and either terminally ill or incurably suffering. We don’t consider terminal illness alone to be a reliable measure of someone’s suffering or quality of life, nor believe that the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death should be limited to someone with six-months left to live. We welcome this as yet another step forward in our country’s long journey towards a compassionate change in the law.”

Saimo Chahal QC (Hon), Solicitor, Bindmans LLP said:

“It is vital that the courts should consider Phil’s case and the legal arguments for and against allowing a law change so as to come to an informed and balanced decision. This has not happened to date and the time is ripe for the issues which Phil raises to be confronted.  Expert evidence should be allowed with cross examination of all experts both for and against Phil’s claim so that the arguments can be fully tested in court as much of the debate in this area has focused on unsubstantiated and emotive stories about the harm that a law change would result in, without the evidence to back up these claims.” 

He is being represented by Saimo Chahal QC (Hon), Partner, Bindmans LLP, and counsel  Paul Bowen QC of Brick Court Chambers with Jennifer Macleod and Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers.