A recent poll conducted by the pro-change group Dignity in Dying has unveiled a surprising and profound shift in the attitudes of religious individuals in England and Wales regarding the legalization of assisted dying.
The results indicate that an overwhelming majority of those who identify as religious are in support of changing the law to permit assisted dying, shedding light on a potentially transformative shift in societal perspectives on end-of-life choices.
The comprehensive survey, which canvassed the opinions of over a thousand participants throughout the summer, discovered that an impressive 68 percent of individuals belonging to various religious faiths, including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, would endorse a change in the existing legislation to accommodate assisted dying. This revelation challenges preconceived notions about religious views on this sensitive issue.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, a prominent advocate for this change, expressed his lack of surprise at the poll’s findings. In his view, the essence of Christianity, as depicted in the Gospels, fundamentally revolves around compassion and love for fellow human beings. Lord Carey stated, “One of the key themes of the Gospels is love for our fellow human beings. Doing whatever we can to relieve needless suffering and bring peace is a profoundly Christian act.” He passionately hopes that lawmakers will take note of this groundswell of support for compassionate assisted dying and finally enact a new framework that aligns with the compassion and kindness that many citizens yearn to see.
However, not all religious figures share Lord Carey’s perspective. Dr. Mark Pickering, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, expressed skepticism regarding the poll’s results. He argued that much of the campaign advocating for changes to the law emphasizes fear and the idea that individuals should have autonomy over their life and death. Dr. Pickering maintained, “There are very few cases where you can’t make a big difference by good end-of-life care. And so much of what is talked about as dignity is actually what we call autonomy. It is the idea that I should be in charge of my life and my death.” He referenced the Bible, suggesting that it disapproves of excessive autonomy, characterizing it as a form of sin.
Despite these contrasting viewpoints, a growing number of Members of Parliament are in favor of opening a parliamentary debate on assisted dying. Among them is Social Care Minister Helen Whately, who recently voiced her support for such a discussion. As the matter currently stands, assisted dying is prohibited in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with a potential maximum prison sentence of 14 years for those who assist others in such actions. The formation of a committee dedicated to studying and advocating for assisted dying is expected to play a pivotal role in making the case for a vote in the Houses of Parliament.
This revelation regarding the support for legalizing assisted dying among religious communities marks a significant turning point in the ongoing debate surrounding end-of-life choices in England and Wales. While religious perspectives have traditionally been seen as obstacles to legislative change in this area, the poll’s findings illustrate a surprising degree of alignment between religious values and the desire to alleviate unnecessary suffering.
As this movement gains momentum, it is possible that the United Kingdom may be on the cusp of a transformative shift in the legal landscape surrounding assisted dying. Whether this evolving consensus will result in legislative changes remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly signals a profound societal shift in the way we approach this emotionally charged topic.
The forthcoming report by the committee on assisted dying promises to further inform this critical debate, and the views of religious individuals will continue to play a central role in shaping the future of end-of-life legislation in England and Wales.