Paul Lamb, who is paralysed from the neck down, has launched a new legal case against the Secretary of State for Justice, challenging the law on assisted dying in the UK
Paul, 63, was severely injured in a car accident in 1990 and has no function below his neck apart from limited movement in his right hand. He requires around the clock care and lives in constant pain. Some time ago, Paul decided that he wants to be able to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing. Paul knows that, given his condition, he will inevitably need assistance to die. He argues that the current law – which prohibits any assistance under threat of up to fourteen years’ imprisonment – breaches his human right to respect for private life.
Paul is being supported by Humanists UK and is represented by law firm Leigh Day.
Alongside Jane Nicklinson, the widow of locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb previously challenged the UK’s 1961 Suicide Act in a case to the Supreme Court in 2014, and the European Court of Human Rights in 2015. With a notable dissent from the now President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, the Supreme Court held that Parliament must be afforded an opportunity to address the issue before the courts decide whether to declare the current law incompatible with the human rights of Mr Lamb and those who find themselves in a similar position.
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.
In a letter sent to Justice Secretary David Gauke MP on 3 May 2019, Paul argues that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 14 ECHR, read with Article 8. Article 14 ECHR provides a qualified right not to be discriminated against on the ground of disability in respect of the enjoyment of other Convention rights. Article 8 ECHR encompasses the right to decide how and when to die, and in particular the right to avoid a distressing and undignified end to life, provided that the decision is made freely.
In the letter before action Mr Lamb asks the Secretary of State to “concede that sections 2(1), 2A(1) and 2B of the Suicide Act are incompatible with Articles 8 and 14… and undertake to take timely steps to remedy the incompatibility, either by employing the remedial power provided by section 10(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 or by introducing and promoting an appropriate bill in Parliament.” If a satisfactory response is not received from the government Paul intends to apply to the court to seek a judicial review of the current legislation. Paul argues that the law should be changed to allow assisted dying to be legal for those in his position and the terminally ill.
Assisted dying is now legal in this form in five countries, most recently Canada, and is also legal for terminally ill people specifically in one country, nine US jurisdictions, and soon to be in the Australian state of Victoria.
Paul Lamb said:
“I am paralysed from the neck down and live in a state of constant pain. In the future my suffering will inevitably become too much to bear. When that happens, I want to be able to control and choose the circumstances of my death. As the law stands, my only option would be to die through the inhumane process of dehydration and starvation. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
“Five years ago, I asked our courts to give me the right to control my own death and they told me to wait. Since then I have watched and waited as new evidence has emerged and progressive countries have given millions of others the choice I have asked for. And still the UK Parliament has done nothing. I have no option but to ask the Court to intervene again. I need them to help me, and many others in my position, to end this cruel and discriminatory law.”
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
“It is a national disgrace that too many politicians have allowed themselves to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those like Paul for so long and instead rely upon our courts.
“The right to die in a manner and timing of your own choice is a fundamental human right, which the UK has neglected for too long. It should not depend upon your ability to afford travel to Switzerland, nor force families into a heart-wrenching dilemma between letting their loved ones suffer, or supporting them and risking criminal investigation.
“We are delighted by the news that Paul intends to bring this landmark case and challenge such a heartless law. Paul’s case seeks a more compassionate law, as it will give those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering the dignity they deserve. We will back him at every stage.”
Rosa Curling solicitor at law firm Leigh Day who is representing Paul, said:
“For many years, our client has patiently waited for Parliament to address the issue of whether section 2 of the Suicide Act should be relaxed or modified. But the pain and suffering he experiences, on a daily basis, means he cannot wait any longer. He believes the time is now right for the courts to intervene and declare section 2 incompatible with Article 8 and 14 of European Convention on Human Rights because it unlawfully discriminates against seriously disabled people who wish to end their lives.”
Alongside Leigh Day, Paul Lamb is represented by Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office, Adam Sandell of Matrix Chambers, and Eesvan Krishnan of Blackstone Chambers.