High Court rejects judicial review on assisted dying

Posted On: 
19th November 2019

The High Court has today (Tuesday 19 November 2019) rejected 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. Following a hearing at the High Court on 22 October 2019, a decision was handed down today denying the case permission to proceed. Phil and his legal team will now assess their options for appeal.
 
This is the first time assisted dying has been addressed by the Courts since Noel Conway’s case was rejected by the Supreme Court in November 2018. Phil Newby is asking High Court Judges to examine a large body of evidence and to cross-examine experts, which is departure from the norm, but Phil and his legal team believe that this method is the only way that the legal stalemate on this sensitive issue will be overcome. 
 
The decision comes as new research from YouGov finds that more than seven in ten (73%) people with an advanced or terminal illness would support a change in the law on assisted dying. The survey also found that around two-thirds (64%) would be pleased to have the option of assisted dying for themselves alongside good end–of-life care, and two-fifths (39%) say they have or would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death. The findings are published in full in a report out today: ‘What Matters to Me: People living with terminal and advanced illness on end-of-life choices’.
 
The Royal College of General Practitioners is currently surveying its members on assisted dying for the first time since 2013. This follows the Royal College of Physicians’ survey earlier this year, which resulted in the College dropping its longstanding opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying in favour of neutrality. The British Medical Association has also committed to surveying its members in the coming months.
 
Overseas, an assisted dying bill in New Zealand passed third reading on 13 November 2019 and will now go to a public vote in 2020. Earlier this year Victoria became the first Australian state to introduce assisted dying, and Western Australia is currently considering a similar bill. Assisted dying is now available in 10 American jurisdictions, with legislation passing in Maine, New Jersey and Hawaii in 2019. 
Phil said:
 
“The High Court’s decision not to hear our case and not to test the evidence for and against assisted dying is disappointing to me and the many hundreds of others who have helped to fund it. We will be fighting on to bring down a law that is widely thought to be cruel, so that it can be replaced by something more humane and compassionate”.
 
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
 
“If Phil lived in Melbourne or Los Angeles, he could have the choice of an assisted death and he should be able to have that same choice here. Research out today shows that the vast majority of terminally ill Brits agree that there should be a change in the law in this country to allow assisted dying as an option alongside palliative care. 
 
“As high profile cases like Mavis Eccleston's and Ann Whaley’s have demonstrated, the current blanket ban on assisted dying simply does not work. It denies dying people meaningful choice over their death, criminalises loved ones for acts of compassion and fails to protect vulnerable people. 

“A growing body of evidence from the US and Australia shows that it would be far safer for all involved to introduce a transparent assisted dying law that provides choice and control to terminally ill people, takes agonising decisions away from their families, and offers robust protection to the rest of society. We wish Phil success in his appeal so that this evidence may be examined in full.”