Assisted Dying: Church And Jewish Leaders Join Call For Legalisation

More than 50 religious leaders have called for assisted dying to be legalised in the UK, with vicars, priests and rabbis planning to lobby parliament to make the change.

The group spearheading the campaign, the Interfaith Leaders for Dignity In Dying, told The Huffington Post UK they want to change the portrayal of religion as being anti-assisted suicide, even when a person is in a great deal of pain.

According to a poll last week by the Swiss Medical Lawyers Association, nearly three quarters of British people are in favour of legalising assisted suicide.

Locked-In sufferer Tony Nicklinson who lost a legal battle to end his life

The issue came to a head this year because of the plight of "locked-in" sufferer Tony Nicklinson, who lost a legal battle for the right to be helped to end his life when he chooses. He died just days after the High Court judgement, after reportedly refusing food.

The faith group's mission statement, agreed at their launch last week, said: "There are many other ministers who are in favour of the law being changed but who feel too isolated – or feek pressurised by their religious hierarchies - to speak out.

"Our common position was that we shared a strong belief in the value of life, but felt that the oft-heard phrase - 'the sanctity of life' - needs a more nuanced approach than it currently receives: it has to take into account quality of life too, and it also has to allow room for the different perspectives of different individuals.

"Thus while some people may view suffering as something to be endured till the very end, and while others see suffering as having an enriching element, for yet others it is a terrible burden and they should be able to have the option of assisted dying if they so wish."

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Reform Synagogue and co-ordinator of the group, told The Huffington Post UK: "High-profile leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, have taken the position they are against assisted dying.

"But we think it is a bit more nuanced. We think when someone is suffering greatly, and they are terminally ill, they should not be forced to Switzerland.

The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan WIlliams are both anti-assisted dying

"I have seen people dying in pain, needlessly, in my own congregation. I think it affects ministers all the time. I am someone who has had my mind changed radically in the past few years, I was very much against assisted dying for all the usual reasons.

"And when my mind began to change, then I thought I was a lone voice. And it was last year, on Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, when I resolved to do something."

The inaugural group of 52 consists of both Christian and Jewish ministers from across the country, but Rabbi Romain said they were actively seeking ordained members of other faiths, including imams.

The Dignitas clinic in Switzerland

They plan to publish a compilation of religious texts on assisted dying, and provide theological guidelines for looking after those suffering and their families before and after death.

One of the group's inaugural members, Rev Dr David Lamborn, from Birmingham, told The Huffington Post UK: "We know there are divisions on this issue, both inside Christianity, Judaism and Islam. And the 'other side' has a lot better publicity, they have convinced the public that religion is of a single mind on this issue.

"That is not the complete story. There are so many of us who simply do not go along with that view that medicine must be prolonged, when staying alive becomes a torture."

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, the UK's main lobbying body on the issue, said: “IFDiD illustrates that not all faith leaders are opposed to people having the choice of an assisted death.

"The majority of people with faith support a change in the law to allow the choice of assisted dying, and the voices of these people have been drowned out thus far by a vocal minority who oppose the choice.

"I look forward to working with IFDiD to ensure future assisted dying legislation takes into account all aspects of the dying process and supports those working pastorally with dying adults facing these choices."