Obituary: Paul Lamb, campaigner

Paul Lamb, who has died at 65, was a former Leeds builder and greyhound racer who spent the latter part of his life challenging the law which criminalises assisted suicide, following a car crash 21 years ago which left him almost paralysed from the neck down.

Paul Lamb. Picture by Simon Hulme
Paul Lamb. Picture by Simon Hulme

Paul Lamb, who has died at 65, was a former Leeds builder and greyhound racer who spent the latter part of his life challenging the law which criminalises assisted suicide, following a car crash 21 years ago which left him almost paralysed from the neck down.

His death left a “fierce legacy of campaigning”, said Humanists UK, which supported his various legal battles over the last decade. The current law on assisted dying – a criminal offence which carries a jail term of up to 14 years – was, Mr Lamb maintained, a breach of his human rights.

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It was in 2014 that he and the family of his fellow campaigner, Tony Nicklinson, took their cases to the Supreme Court. They lost, although the judges acknowledged that parliament should be given the opportunity to re-consider the law.

Five years later, Mr Lamb lost a bid in the High Court to challenge the present law. His case, he was told, was inarguable and a full hearing was denied him. It was a matter for Parliament and not for the courts, the judges ruled.

Mr Lamb, who lived with chronic pain as a result of his paralysis and had no function below the neck other than limited movement in his right arm, had been campaigning to change the law on assisted dying for those who are either incurably suffering or terminally ill. He wanted enshrined in law the right to die when the pain became too much to bear.

He never accepted that his defeat in court meant the end of his campaign. Writing to the then Justice Secretary, David Gauke, he urged politicians to take notice of the judges’ decision and called for an inquiry into assisted dying, which could pave the way for future legislation.

“I cannot understand, in a civilised society like ours, why I should be forced to suffer when millions of people around the world already have the choice I asked for,” he said.

“Without the option of a dignified death, I now have no choice if my pain ever becomes unbearable, other than the horrifying prospect I was most afraid of from the start – slowly starving myself to death.”

Though grateful for the widespread sympathy his campaign collected, he never wanted pity.

“All I have ever wanted is for my choice to be respected and given equal validity under the law, like everyone else’s,” he said.

Nor did he want to go to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, for fear of exposing anyone who helped him to the possibility of incarceration back in Britain.

“I don’t want to put the person who takes me in jeopardy of 14 years in prison,” he said.

In the years since he began his legal journey, the number of Britons travelling to Switzerland for that reason had doubled, said Humanists UK, of which Mr Lamb was a patron.

Francesca Hepworth, his carer at home in Swinnow, Pudsey, said Mr Lamb had for years grappled with his condition in the face of increasing pain, discomfort and distress.

“But throughout it all, what scared him most was his utter lack of control, and the prospect of his pain becoming too much to handle,” she said. “Paul was resolute in his belief that nobody should be forced to suffer, and determined to keep fighting to change the law.”