The arguments for and against assisted dying

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said legalising the act would give rise to a 'slippery slope' which could lead to further difficulties.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said legalising the act would give rise to a 'slippery slope' which could lead to further difficulties.
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OPPONENTS to proposed assisted dying legislation say legal changes will put pressure on patients to end their lives while reform advocates say that measures are needed to help end suffering. The Press Association looks at the arguments for and against reform.

• AGAINST

Faith groups have led the argument against assisted dying, insisting that it would have serious impacts for the most vulnerable in society.

The Church of England believe a change in the law would lead to people either feeling pressured to, or putting pressure on themselves to, end their lives prematurely.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury described the issue of assisted dying as one of the “biggest dilemmas of our time” but said legalising the act would give rise to a “slippery slope” which could lead to further difficulties.

Justin Welby stressed his belief that the current law is working and allows for compassion but society must accept that some situations will never be “neat and clear cut”.

His concern was recently echoed by UK faith leaders Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and Lord Singh of Wimbledon, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK in a joint open letter to MPs.

Together they warned that the UK would cross a “legal and ethical Rubicon” if Parliament votes to let terminally ill patients end their lives.

They are supported by David Cameron, who has made his own opinion on the ethically fraught issue clear. A Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister is not in favour of an approach that would “take us closer to euthanasia”.

• FOR

However, an alliance of bishops, priests and rabbis, including former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, have broken ranks to voice an opposing view.

In stark opposition to Archbishop Welby, Lord Carey instead believes allowing doctors to help terminally ill people to die is a “profoundly Christian and moral thing” to do.

Proper legal safeguards could be devised to ensure vulnerable people are not pressurised into ending their lives by greedy relatives, he argued.

Dr Jonathan Romain, Rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue and chairman of the group Inter-Faith leaders for Dignity in Dying, was among those who signed an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph which urged: “There is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony, and individuals should not be obliged to endure it.”

Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said the law needs to be changed to “deal with the problem of people wanting to end their lives in this country, medically assisted, rather than traipse off to Switzerland”.

He said the debate is not about legalising euthanasia but addressing in-built limitations in the current guidelines, which mean that there can be “injustice in a number of cases”.

Campaign charity Dignity In Dying believes it is time the UK “puts an end to unnecessary suffering and gives dying adults the choice of an assisted death”.