MPs debate reforming assisted dying laws amid religious opposition

Posted: Tue, 30th Apr 2024

MP asks why "people be denied a choice" because of the "religious convictions of others"

MPs debate reforming assisted dying laws amid religious opposition

Members of parliament debated assisted dying laws in Westminster Hall yesterday, with some voicing theological opposition to reform.

The debate came after a public petition on the subject accrued over 200,000 signatures.

Helping someone to die in England and Wales is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment under the Suicide Act 1961.

Ahead of the debate, the National Secular Society joined a rally outside the Houses of Parliament with other supporters of reform (pictured).

Religious opposition to reform

Conservative and 'born again' Christian Nick Fletcher said life is "God-given" and "only He should take it away".

Democratic Unionist Party member Jim Shannon invoked a similar "sanctity of life" argument against assisted dying.

But theological objections to assisted dying were countered by Kit Malthouse, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on choice at the end of life.

He said: "You may not want it yourself, and you may not want it for your relatives, but please do not stop me having it."

"Why on this issue should the British people be denied a choice, because of the—certainly legitimately held—religious convictions of others?" he asked.

Other religious MPs also raised objections to assisted dying.

They included Conservative and evangelical Christian Danny Kruger, who argued that legalising assisted dying would come at the expense of increasing palliative care funding.

This was countered by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who noted that the introduction of assisted dying can be a "powerful catalyst" to improve palliative care, as seen in France and Queensland.

Labour MP Stephen Timms, who is also an evangelical Christian, claimed introducing assisted dying for the terminally ill would lead to a 'slippery slope' and capture other groups of patients.

But Paul Blomfield MP, who co-authored a recent Health and Social Care Committee report on assisted dying, said not a "single jurisdiction that has defined its law in terms of terminal illness has chosen to broaden it".

Law should be based on "autonomy and compassion"

MPs who spoke in favour reform included Labour member Rachel Hopkins, who said people "deserve autonomy and compassion in their end-of-life decisions".

She said: "The legalisation of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults must be introduced, with robust safeguards, to promote freedom of choice at the end of life", she added.

Reform of the law is "backed by the majority in every parliamentary constituency across Great Britain", she added.

She pointed out that travelling to Dignitas, in Switzerland, to accessing assisted dying costs up to £15,000, putting it out of reach of most individuals.

An individual's choice over "the timing and manner of their death" should be "a right, not a privilege", she said.

She noted up to 650 terminally individuals end their lives each year in the UK.

Matt Hancock said the suicide rate among those who have a terminal illness is "double" that of the general population.

Views evolved since 2015

Several MPs noted how the public increasingly supports reforming the law on assisted dying, including among religious groups.

Conservative David Davis said he had "opposed this proposal for a long time" but had "changed his mind".

Fellow Conservative Siobhan Baillie said her "constituent's experiences" had also "steadily changed her views" towards supporting assisted dying.

Globally, 31 jurisdictions, encompassing over 400m people, have introduced a form of assisted dying legislation.

Parliament voted against changing the law in 2015. Legislatures in Scotland, the Isle of Man and Jersey are considering proposals to legalise assisted dying.

NSS: Assisted dying should be 'guided by compassion not religious dogma'

NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez said: "We welcome this Westminster Hall debate on reforming assisted dying laws.

"Decisions over assisted dying should be guided by compassion, autonomy and medical ethics, not religious dogma."

"We need to ensure theological objections don't stand in the way of a more compassionate law that gives those suffering a choice at the end."

Reform assisted dying laws

Decisions over assisted dying should be based on autonomy and medical ethics, not religious dogma. Join our campaign.

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