David Brittain

Humanists have long supported attempts for people to legalise:

  • Assisted dying
  • Assisted suicide
  • Voluntary euthanasia

Across the UK, for those who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives and who are physically unable to do so themselves. In many cases, the person in question will be terminally ill. However, we do not think that there is a strong moral case to limit assistance to terminally ill people alone and we wish to see reform of the law that would be responsive to the needs of other people who are permanently and incurably suffering.


In recent years Humanist UK have intervened in the case of Tony and Jane Nicklinson’s and Paul Lamb’s attempts to overhaul the law on assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering by taking human rights cases through the courts, as well as supported parliamentary attempts to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill.

Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his or her own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about his or her own life so long as this does not result in harm to others. Humanists do not share the attitudes to death and dying held by some religious believers, in particular that the manner and time of death are for a deity to decide, and that interference in the course of nature is unacceptable. We firmly uphold the right to life but we recognise that this right carries with it the right of each individual to make his or her own judgement about whether his or her life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering.

Stephen Hawking speaks out about assisted suicide – Youtube video

  • UK cosmologist Prof Stephen Hawking and Humanist
  • Backs the notion of assisted dying for terminal illnesses
  • An interview with the BBC he said: ‘We don’t let animals suffer, so why humans?’
  • Had progressive motor neurone disease
  • He stressed that there must be safeguards to prevent abuse
  • When asked if family members of those who wish to die should be able to assist without fear of prosecution, Prof Hawking said yes. But he added: ‘There must be safeguards’

Currently, the needs and autonomy of patients are often disregarded. Many people are in fact helped to die by doctors or nurses but without the safeguards that legislation would bring. Compassionate doctors, who follow the wishes of their terminally ill or incurably suffering patients by assisting them to die, risk being charged with assisting suicide or murder. The current system also results in close relatives being faced with the immensely difficult choices of whether, knowing that it is unlawful, to assist a loved one who is begging for help to put an end to their suffering or not to act and hence prolong their suffering. We do not believe that anyone should be put into the position of having to make such choices, or indeed into a position where they believe that they have no other option but personally to end the life of someone they love. The few terminally ill and suffering people who are able to travel abroad to die often do so before it would be necessary if they did not need to be still able to travel.

Basingstoke Humanist Group - part of a series of talks on Death
© Basingstoke Humanist Group – Assisted Dying part of a series of talks on Death

Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right – a position supported by the landmark judgment in the Purdy case, where our highest court ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights can be invoked in relation to the end of life. Legalising assisted dying would ensure that strict legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care, free from coercion. The choice of an assisted death should not be instead of palliative care for terminally ill people, but a core part of comprehensive, patient-centred approaches to end of life care.  

It is important that there are strong safeguards in any assisted dying law. But the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective, and recent assisted dying bills in the UK have had strong safeguards written into them.

… What do you think? …Come and hear the dialogue at Old Basing Village Hall RG24 7DA, Old Basing on the 20th June2018 from 7.30pm.  

Hear a talk by Lesley Close from Dignity in Dying, she is co-editor and author of Assisted Dying: Who Makes the Final Decision?  She became a patron and spokesperson of Dignity in Dying after her brother was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and made the decision to die by assisted suicide. She is now an advocate for legal assisted dying in the UK.

The talk is FREE but non-members will be invited to make a voluntary contribution of £1.  This is part of Basingstoke Humanist group series of talks on death.