Should we legislate to permit assisted dying?

‘Should we legislate to permit assisted dying?’

A number of legal bids to change UK law over recent years have sought to allow people to assist the death of someone with an incurable disease or terminal illness. At the time of this debate, Lord Falconer was preparing to table a private members bill to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill in England and Wales.

Our YouGov survey polled support for a change in the law on assisted suicide, finding that 70% of UK adults support a change which would make it possible to help someone with an incurable disease die without risk of prosecution for doing so. A remarkable 82% of those who support a change in the law agree that “An individual has the right to choose when and how to die.”

Among religious people, 64% support a change in the law on assisted suicide. For those who oppose new legislation, the principal concern is not for the sanctity of human life, but that vulnerable people could feel pressured to die. Of all the issues discussed in the 2013 debates, this is the one on which there is the greatest divergence between popular opinion and current legislation.

Growing support for euthanasia is driven by commitment to the individual’s right to choose their own death in preference to drawn-out suffering


“People in the context of a terminal illness should have the right to choose how they die … it’s their right and I think we’re not compassionate as a society if our law doesn’t change to catch up with the practice.”

Charles Falconer

“I’m afraid as a clinician I can tell you we can’t really define who is terminally ill. Most conditions in medicine are incurable, most conditions in medicine are progressive, and we don’t know how rapidly they’re going to progress.”

Ilora Finlay

“If doctors are involved it becomes a duty of care. So that’s why introducing something like this is a change in climate, it is a game-changer.”

Rob George

“People often say they don’t want to be a burden to their families. Well, I bloody well do want to be a burden to my family, and actually I want my family to be a burden to me, and that seems to me to be entirely what it is to be in a family and in a community.”

Giles Fraser

Some media reaction

Most religious followers support assisted suicide for the dying.

British Medical Journal, 2 May 2013

A new poll finds overwhelming support for assisted suicide for the terminally ill among Anglicans, Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews in Britain, with Baptists and Muslims the only groups that oppose changes to British law, which currently prohibits assisted suicide.

Washington Post, 2 May 2013

We are used to having more control over our lives and I think that is partly why there is this overwhelming number of people saying that they have a right to decide for themselves.

Linda Woodhead, quoted by BBC News, 1 May 2013

A major survey of religious opinion shows that large majorities of believers are in favour of legalising assisted dying … Christian groups reacted with dismay to the results … Austen Ivereigh, of the lobby group Catholic Voices, said: ‘It shows how little exposed even practising religious people are to the teachings of their church. I can only remember hearing three homilies on the subject in all my years in church.’

Andrew Brown, Guardian, 30 April 2013


Read the BBC online Ethics Guide to Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide 

Dignity in Dying is a UK-based organisation campaigning for choice, access and control to alleviate suffering at the end of life, offering information and personal stories

The final report of the Commission on Assisted Dying is available here

This event was held at QEIICC, Westminster, Thursday 2 May 2013


  • Charles Clarke

    Charles was Labour Member of Parliament for Norwich South, which he remained until May 1997 –...

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  • Charles Falconer

    Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Opposition Spokesperson for Justice Charles Falconer is a Labour peer...

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  • Giles Fraser

    Dr Giles Fraser featured prominently in the news in 2011 when Occupy London set up camp at St...

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  • Ilora Finlay

    Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Honorary Professor of Palliative Medicine at Cardiff University Ilora...

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  • Linda Woodhead

    Linda is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University and Director of the Religion...

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  • Rob George

    Rob George is Professor of Palliative Care. He pioneered HIV & non-cancer palliative care at...

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  • Intro by Linda Woodhead

  • Intro by Ilora Finlay

  • Intro by Giles Fraser

  • Intro by Rob George

  • Intro by Charles Falconer

  • Assisted Dying Part 1

  • Assisted Dying Part 2


2 Responses to Should we legislate to permit assisted dying?

  1. […] issue of euthanasia or assisted dying formed the basis of one of the 2013 Westminster Faith Debates on religion and personal morality. An accompanying survey of adults in Britain – conducted by […]

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