Assisted dying campaigner Phil Newby refused permission by Court of Appeal

Phil Newby has been denied permission by the Court of Appeal to challenge the UK’s prohibitive law on assisted dying. 

Phil, 49, a father of two and member of My Death, My Decision, suffers from the degenerative condition motor neurone disease. His legal case had raised over £48,000 in donations from the public and had asked for the right to undertake a detailed examination of the evidence on assisted dying, and the ability to cross-examine expert witnesses. 

In November, he lost his High Court case, with judges saying court was ‘not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life’. 

The latest development follows shortly after the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, signaled an interest in initiating a call for evidence on assisted dying – which Mr Newby has pledged to support by providing over nine-box files of evidence in support of a change in the law. 

Reacting to the Court of Appeal’s decision, 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.’

‘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.’

Trevor Moore Chair of the campaign group My Death, My Decision said: 

‘We find the decision of the Court truly frustrating’ 

‘Not only is the current law out of step with the modern values of our country, denying those like Phil or Paul Lamb – who has a separate case – the dignity, empathy, and compassion they deserve to die on their own terms,  it clearly no longer represents the view of an overwhelming majority of the public. The expectations all throughout this case was that the court would be willing to engage with reasoned and balanced evidence – but having failed to do so, it is now the responsibility of our Government to initiate a call for evidence – which we urge the Secretary of State now swiftly to do .’ 

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Justice Secretary considers review into assisted dying

Credit: House of Lords| Roger Harris

Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland QC, has announced that he is considering a review into the law on assisted dying, adding there is a need to ‘take into account compassionate reasons’. 

His comments which first appeared in the Express newspaper, follow after MPs debated assisted dying last week for the first time since Paul Lamb and Phil Newby were rejected permission to challenge the law. 

He said: 

‘Although Crown Prosecution Service guidelines strike a decent balance on the need to follow the evidence, the need to take into account compassionate reasons, I do continue to consider the matter very carefully. My own view is that I wouldn’t support (assisted suicide) but that’s my view as an individual. As Lord Chancellor I have to think about the merits of having a call for evidence, which I will actively consider in the next few months.’

Trevor Moore chair of the campaign group My Death, My Decision said:

‘The balance of evidence in favour of a compassionate, safeguarded, and inclusive right-to-die really has changed since 2015, and it is encouraging that the Government is giving this issue the serious consideration that it deserves. 

Only last week MPs were asked to debate assisted dying, but then weren’t equipped with the necessary and impartial evidence to do so – leading to several misunderstandings and inaccuracies. 

Every week more than one person a week from the UK is now forced to end their life abroad – which simply wasn’t the case in 2015. The trend in medical opinion continues to move in favour of review, as both the Royal College of General Practitioners and British Medical Association have committed to surveying their members – and beyond this, more countries, including Canada, have demonstrated internationally that a balance can be struck between robust safeguards and a dignified death. None of this was the case in 2015, and a review is now long overdue.’

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MPs debate assisted dying call for evidence

MPs from across the political divide have supported calls for an independent inquiry into assisted dying. My Death, My Decision welcomed MPs’ support on this issue. 

In a Westminster Hall debate, Christine Jardine MP, who called for the debate, acknowledged that her own views on assisted dying had changed after the death of her mother and that whilst she may have once been a ‘passive’ supporter she now saw it as incumbent upon herself to take action. In a bid to move beyond the current political impasse among MPs, she called upon the Government to consider formally issuing an investigation into the law on assisted dying as it stands. 

She said: ‘Perhaps the cruellest [fact] of all – it [the current law] can all be avoided if you can afford it. The law as it stands has created a two-tier system. If you have more than ten thousand pounds, you can travel to Switzerland or elsewhere for the end of life care of your choice.’ ‘… I have not used a word normally central to this debate and crucial to the campaigns which are going on outwith Parliament – and that word is compassion. That omission, on my part, is deliberate because for me in our law as it stands there is no compassion.’

Among other MPs who spoke in support of assisted dying, new MP Alicia Kearns spoke in support of Phil Newby, My Death, My Decision’s member, saying: ‘I’ve been struck by Phil’s considered and measured case and it sits with us to make a decision. The crux of the matter to me is to recognise the terror and agony to have your body turn on you and to wrack you with pain or torture you; for those suffering debilitating and terminal diseases are not just being robbed of life but also death.’ 

Later adding: ‘To come to terms with one’s own death, to depart this life in peace and dignity is a privilege I believe we should endeavour as a society to extend, not limit’. 

The latest pressure to review a change in the law follows after Phil Newby and Paul Lamb recently both had permission rejected by the High Court to challenge the UK’s prohibitive law

Despite efforts last year to call for an objective assessment of the law, including an open letter organised by My Death, My Decision and signed by a diverse range of thirty-four doctors, politicians, religious leaders, academics, and campaigners, the Justice Minister, Chris Philp, said the government was neutral in the debate and had no intention of introducing legislation. 

Trevor Moore, Chair of the campaign group My Death, My Decision said: 

‘Dying with dignity, in a manner of our own choosing, is a fundamental human right. It has now been almost half a decade since Parliament last examined the issue of assisted dying – and the evidence has changed. Progressive countries, including Canada, have proven a balance can be struck between stringent safeguards and respect for individual autonomy, medical opinion has shifted, new evidence has debunked claims palliative care and assisted dying are incompatible, and the number of Britons forced to end their life abroad has doubled to more than one person a week. 

Public opinion has now reached a record high and nearly 90% of the public support a change in the law. But, regardless of one’s view, we’d all surely agree assisted dying deserves a serious and robust discussion – our MPs need to be equipped with the latest impartial, independent and objective evidence. 

A call for evidence is essential.’

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Canada forges ahead with consultation on assisted dying for the incurably suffering

Under its current rules, Canadian adults who are of sound mind can voluntarily request an assisted death, if they suffer from a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and are in a state of irreversible decline – resulting in intolerable suffering and a reasonably foreseeable death.

But, following a judgment from a court last September, the requirement of a ‘reasonably foreseeable death’, which had prevented adults with an incurable but non-life threatening illness from having an assisted death, was struck down. The decision, which was suspended until 11 March to allow the Government to appeal, ruled such a narrow restriction discriminated against those living in constant and unrelievable pain.

Deciding not to appeal the judgment, the Government has now given Canadians until 27 January to indicate whether the change in the law should be accompanied with additional safeguards, including:

A requirement that a patient has exhausted all other treatment options before requesting an assisted death
Mandatory psychological or psychiatric evaluations
Special training for doctors to assess the risk of vulnerability

Among other questions, the consultation also asks Canadians whether assisted deaths should be permitted for: patients with Alzheimer’s who indicated they wished to die prior to losing capacity, adults solely suffering from a psychiatric illness, and patients under the age of 18 but who are deemed able to make their own medical decisions.

Even without the court ruling, these questions were due for investigation in 2020 as part of a mandatory five-year review. It is expected they as well as issues such as the state of palliative care will be covered by a parliamentary committee later in June.

Robert Ince, a spokesperson for the campaign group My Death, My Decision said:

‘In any modern and compassionate society, adults who face constant and unbearable suffering shouldn’t be forced to endure unnecessary pain – regardless of how long they are expected to live. Fundamentally, they deserve a right to decide how, where, and when they die.

We warmly welcome Canada’s decision to embrace this reality and commend their commitment to ensuring the right balance between respecting autonomy and robust safeguards.

For too long, whilst progressive nations including Canada have forged ahead, Britain’s politicians have dragged their feet on assisted dying – preferring to leave it in the too-hard to resolve category. But, with public opinion at a record high ( nearly 90% favour a change in the law) and more than one person a week now travelling abroad to end their life, the time has now come for Parliament to take action.

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MDMD marks the death of assisted dying supporter


Early in December, My Death, My Decision supporter Richard chose to end his life in Switzerland. 

Richard had been suffering from motor neurone disease, an incurable condition which can result in someone’s muscles wasting away and significant mobility problems. Diagnosed with the condition in 2018, Richard’s illness became progressively worse and eventually resulted in the need for a wheel rollator to move. Knowing that he would eventually become wholly dependent upon a ventilator to breathe, Richard decided to end his life before he deteriorated further. 

In a message written before his death Richard said: 

‘Probably the most common argument raised by opponents of an assisted dying law is that the vulnerable might be coerced into ending their lives… the process of applying to Switzerland is arduous and involves several discussions with doctors and others, during which the professionals would readily identify anyone acting against their will. [This may be] being used as a smokescreen to conceal opponents’ true motives, which may be more controversial and rather harder to justify’. 

My wife and I decided to approach Dignitas as soon as we realised what is involved in the natural final stages of MN (motor neurone disease)… We regard ourselves as very fortunate to be able to afford Switzerland. We are aware that so many who would like to go simply don’t have the means.’

Trevor Moore, Chair of the campaign group My Death, My Decision said:

‘It is shameful that Richard was denied the most basic of human rights to choose how, when, and whether he died in this country. His story serves as a stark reminder of both the impact and importance that a change in the law could bring to those who are incurably suffering or terminally ill. 

Fundamentally, dying in a manner and timing of your own choice should not depend upon someone’s financial means. More than one person a week now travels abroad to end their life, but many others cannot afford to make such a journey. In a civilised country, such as our own, we surely should not fail to respect the rights of our citizens or simply export their suffering to other places. 

We are grateful Richard was able to find a peaceful, painless, and dignified death abroad – but will continue his fight for a compassionate choice and change in the law in this country. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this sensitive time and to everyone else touched by his life’. 

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