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Assisted dying ‘not a matter for faith leaders’

18 June 2021

YouGov poll: religious leaders were wrong to campaign against the Assisted Dying Bill


Noel Conway, who suffered from motor neurone disease, died “a painless and dignified death” last week, aged 71. He had campaigned unsuccessfully in the courts in 2018 to overturn the ban on assisted dying. In a final statement, released by Dignity in Dying, he said that his life had “dipped into the negative. . . This is not what I would have chosen”

Noel Conway, who suffered from motor neurone disease, died “a painless and dignified death” last week, aged 71. He had campaigned unsuccessfully in th...

A MAJORITY of people of faith believe religious leaders were wrong to campaign actively against the Assisted Dying Bill in 2015, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Dignity in Dying and published on Sunday.

That Bill was lost by 330 to 118 on its Second Reading. A new Bill from Baroness Meacher, which had its First Reading in the Lords on 26 May, would legalise assisted dying in England and Wales as a choice for mentally competent adults in their final six months of life. Two independent doctors and a High Court judge would have to assess each request.

The poll of 5039 adults covered all the main denominations, together with Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism, and those identifying themselves as not religious. They were asked a single question: did they think it right or wrong for religious leaders to have campaigned against assisted dying? Of non-religious people, 70 per cent said the intervention had been wrong, and only nine per cent thought it right.

By denomination, 60 per cent of those declaring themselves Church of England/ Anglican/Episcopal thought it wrong. The figure was lower for Roman Catholics, at 46 per cent; Methodists came in at 60 per cent, and Baptists at 36. Samples were smaller from other denominations: both Brethren respondents believed that it was a wrong decision.

Pentecostals were more evenly divided: 42 per cent believed the decision to have been right, 35 per cent wrong, and 23 per cent were undecided. A majority — 55 per cent — of those declared as Evangelical/Independent/Non-denominational thought the decision right; 16 per cent thought it wrong; and 29 per cent were undecided. Total Christian figures are: 55 per cent thought it wrong; 22 per cent right; and 23 per cent undecided.

For Judaism, 56 per cent thought it wrong; only 11 per cent thought it right; and 33 per cent didn’t know. Of Hindus, 56 per cent were “Don’t know”. Just under half the Islamic people of faith — 49 per cent — believed the decision was right. Sixty-seven per cent of Sikhs and 59 per cent of Buddhists thought it wrong.

A multi-faith lobby group for assisted dying, the Religious Alliance for Dignity in Dying, was launched last week. Chaired by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, it seeks to show that there is “no contradiction between having a faith and being in favour of assisted dying”. Polling evidence showed a massive shift in favour in the country at large, the group said, including among people of faith.

Dr Romain described the present situation as morally indefensible. He said: “In the 60 years since the blanket ban has been in place, medical advances have done wonders in prolonging life, but this often means prolonging the dying process, too, causing suffering that may be beyond the reach of palliative care.

“Religious teaching evolves to deal with the challenges of modern life: so, too, should the options we offer people when they reach the end of it. . . There is no sanctity in suffering, nothing holy about agony. We support a change in the law on assisted dying because of faith, not in spite of it.”

Canon Alan Race, who chairs Modern Church, said, “Christians place high value on human dignity and compassion, and believe we should relieve suffering where possible. We welcome medical intervention in order to relieve pain, especially when suffering becomes unbearable.

“Relationship with God is a freely chosen commitment, and this means that we do not leave it to God to determine the time of death. Trusting in God’s unlimited compassion, therefore, includes the desire to relieve unbearable suffering at the end of life.”

The Roman Catholic Church has reiterated its strong opposition to the new Bill. The head of the Department for Life Issues of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop John Sherrington, said that true compassion was “the just response to the immense value of the sick person. It finds expression in treating the dying person with love, with dignity, and by making use of appropriate palliative care.”

The RC Church has called on its members to pray for good care of those who are elderly, sick, and dying, and to oppose legislation in upcoming celebrations for its Day for Life on 20 June.

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