15 March 2018

70 years ago the world came together to set down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights we should all enjoy simply because we are human. This year we'll be celebrating universal human rights, and bringing them home in the Human Rights Act which also marks its 20th anniversary. Join us in the celebrations and sign our digital birthday card for universal human rights here. Read on to learn more about what these rights mean in our everyday lives...

The right to life was set down in Article 3 of the UDHR, and is now protected in UK law through Article 2 of the Human Rights Act. 

The Human Rights Act protects your right to life: this means that public officials cannot deliberately take your life. Public officials also have to take reasonable steps to protect your life, if they know (or should know) that your life is at real and immediate risk. The Human Rights Act also means that public officials have to fulfil your right to life by investigating when officials may have been involved in a death or failed to act. 

Most of the time, the right to life is an absolute right, which means that it can never be limited or restricted. There are very limited circumstances, however, where police or armed forces personnel may take a person's life in the course of a particular action, which was necessary to protect the lives of others, and this right will not be breached.

In real life: protecting patients at risk of taking their own life

Melanie Rabone was 24 years old and voluntarily admitted herself to a mental health hospital after she had attempted to take her own life. She was assessed as being at high risk of suicide, and whilst on leave from the hospital took her own life.

Her family took a human rights case to court, and the court ruled that the hospital had failed in their duty to protect Melanie’s right to life. The hospital had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect Melanie’s life, including by detaining her under the Mental Health Act to try and prevent her suicide.

(Rabone v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, 2012)

In real life: challenging arbitrary use of DNR orders

Andrew was a 51-year old man with Down’s syndrome and dementia. During a hospital stay, he had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order (an instruction to the medical team not to attempt resuscitation if he fell unconscious) put on his file without him or his family being consulted. The reasons written on the order by the doctor were: “Down’s syndrome, unable to swallow... bed bound, learning difficulties”.

As Andrew's life was at stake, he was able to challenge this as a risk to his right to life (and also as discrimination). He started a human rights legal case but it was settled out of court and the NHS Trust apologised.

(Real-life story)

In real life: accessing life-saving treatment

Bryn was 60 years old and lived in supported accommodation. He had learning disabilities which could make communication difficult. Staff noticed Bryn wasn’t lying down to go to sleep, but was sleeping sitting up in a chair. As this can be an indication of a heart condition, staff at the home called a doctor from the local NHS surgery who came to visit Bryn.

A meeting of people involved in Bryn’s care was called, where the doctor stated that because Bryn 'had a learning disability and no quality of life' he would not organise a heart scan for Bryn. Bryn had an Indepedent Mental Capacity Advocate, who had received training on human rights from BIHR. Bryn's advocate challenged the doctor’s decision at the meeting by raising Bryn’s right to life (and his right to be free from discrimination, protected by Article 14 in the Human Rights Act). The advocate asked the doctor if he would arrange a heart scan if anyone else in the room was in this situation, and the GP said yes he would.

This led to a change in decision and it was agreed that Bryn would have a heart scan.

(Real life example from Solent Mind, participants in BIHR’s Care and Support project)

Take action, join in!

Show your support and sign our digital 70th birthday card for universal human rights here - it's a quick and simple way to have your voice heard and join others across the UK.

Remember we're running a digital campaign between 14 - 23 March; follow the discussion on social media using #MarchforHumanRights and #celebrating70. We'd love for you to join the conversation, especially our #rightschat taking place on Twitter on Friday 16 March between 12-1.30pm.

Check out our 70 years of universal human rights hub for more ways to join in.