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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Bishops Will Be Abusing The Democratic Process If They Scupper The Assisted Dying For The Terminally Ill Bill

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops are opposing the Assisted Dying for The Terminally Ill Bill the second reading of which is tomorrow (Friday). Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “If as suspected the bishops oppose this important Bill at second reading and prevent it being debated further, it represents a disgraceful abuse of the democratic process.” “Parliamentary convention dictates that even highly controversial bills are not rejected before there has been any debate on them. Yet this is exactly what could happen if the Bishops abuse their privilege and oppose the Bill at this preliminary stage. Parliament is out of step with the country on voluntary euthanasia and it is essential that these matters are debated thoroughly by both Houses of Parliament.

“Bishops are as entitled to their opinion as anyone else, but they are unrepresentative of public opinion and for them to act in Parliament in a way that is likely to subvert the democratic process is intolerable. Britain is the only western democracy to give clerics the right to sit in their legislature. If they are going to subvert democratic debate simply because they disagree with legislation that has popular support, then it strengthens the case for the removal of the entire Bishops Bench from the House of Lords.

These current proposals are much less radical than earlier bills, allowing competent adults with terminal diseases to self-administer end-of-life medication rather for medical practitioners to do so. They therefore command a high level of public support. We will be reverting to the situation in the Middle Ages if the Church is allowed in effect to veto legislation, especially legislation that has significant public support.

It seems that as well as the bishops seeking to deny democratic debate in Parliament, we have the intimidation of supporters of this Bill by the religious. Lord Joffe, the sponsor of the Bill, has received a huge mail bag of hate mail over this Bill from religious correspondents.


Published Thu, 11 May 2006