Assisted Dying and Other News

Assisted dying heads the list of five religious statistical news stories today, rounding off BRIN’s coverage of the exclusive YouGov survey on religion and personal morality commissioned to inform the 2013 Westminster Faith Debates.

Assisted dying

The British public overwhelmingly (70%, with just 16% in disagreement) favours a change in the law to enable persons with incurable diseases to have the right to ask close friends or relatives to help them commit suicide, and without those friends or relatives running the risk of prosecution (as is currently the case). Moreover, while those who profess no religion are especially likely (81% versus 9%) to support reform, even people of faith back it overall (64% versus 21%), with the conspicuous exception of Muslims, who take the contrary line (by 55% to 26%). A plurality (49%, with 36% against) of individuals who actively participate in a religious group also wants to see the law amended. Not until we reach the ‘strict believers’ – the 9% of the population who take their authority in life from religious sources, who certainly believe in God, and who actively participate in a religious group – is there a religious core hostile to legalizing assisted dying and thus in tune with the teaching of many mainstream faiths and denominations. These believers’ motivations are that ‘human life is sacred’ (80%) and/or ‘death should take its natural course’ (69%).

These are some of the headlines from the sixth and final instalment of the YouGov poll commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead in connection with the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, which conclude today with a discussion of ‘Should We Legislate to Permit Assisted Dying?’ The poll was undertaken through online interviews with 4,437 Britons aged 18 and over between 25 and 30 January 2013. The detailed computer tables for the assisted dying module, including the two questions exploring the reasons for supporting or opposing a change in the law, have been posted at:

The press release for these results is at:

A consolidated list of media coverage for all six debates in the series is at:

Assisted dying has been a contested matter for decades. The campaign organization now known as Dignity in Dying was founded as the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society as far back as 1935. Soon afterwards, in 1937, Gallup conducted the first opinion poll on the subject, asking its sample whether ‘doctors should be given power to end the life of a person incurably ill’, and finding that 69% thought that they should. The proportion in favour of physician-assisted suicide has grown since, hovering around four-fifths in six British Social Attitudes Surveys from 1983 to 2008; in 2008 it stood at 82% (90% for those of no religion, 85% for Anglicans, 75% for Catholics, 70% for other Christians, and 63% for non-Christians). Endorsement of non-doctor-assisted suicide has run at a somewhat lower but still high level; a question worded not dissimilarly to that in the Westminster Faith Debates poll, asking about a change in the law to enable friends and relatives to assist in a suicide, was posed by YouGov on five occasions between 2008 and 2012, recording majorities for legislative reform of between 68% and 74%. However, it should be noted that the public is less approving of suicide in instances where an incurable disease does not exist; indeed, in the most recent (January 2013) Angus Reid poll only 29% of Britons deemed suicide in general to be morally acceptable.

Lent, 2013

No, there is nothing wrong with BRIN’s ecclesiastical clock; we know that Lent is long past! It is just that, after Easter this year, on 10 April, Opinium put out a press release about two online surveys of UK adults aged 18 and over which it had undertaken on behalf of the charity Street Kids International, and in connection with the latter’s ‘Give it Up for a Day’ campaign to coincide with the International Day for Street Children on 12 April. Thanks to the generosity of both Opinium and Street Kids, BRIN has been given access to both topline and detailed data from these surveys, and we are able to share some highlights from them with our constituency.

The first survey was completed by 2,021 adults and conducted between 12 and 15 February 2013, broadly coinciding with the start of Lent (13 February). Asked whether they had any plans to give anything up for Lent, 11% said yes, ranging from 14% of women to 8% of men, and from 17% of the 18-34s to 8% of the over-55s. Three-fifths of these prospective abstainers anticipated that they would sustain their sacrifice throughout the whole of Lent (66% of females and 72% of the 35-54s). Four-fifths (79%) had no intentions of giving anything up, with 65% of them attributing this to the fact that they did not celebrate Lent or were not religious; 29% could see no purpose in Lent, 10% confessed they could not be bothered, and 6% blamed a lack of willpower. 72% of the non-abstainers thought that they might manage to give up something for one day instead (which was the driver behind the Street Kids campaign). One in ten of all respondents admitted to being uncertain about their Lenten observance.

The second survey, in which 2,006 adults were interviewed, took place between 2 and 4 April 2013, immediately after the conclusion of Lent. A similar number to the first survey (10%) claimed that they had tried to give something up for Lent, peaking at 12% of women, 15% of the 18-34s, and 16% of Londoners, while 89% acknowledged that they had not. The top forfeits were very much the ‘traditional’ ones: eating chocolate (32% of the abstainers), drinking alcohol (19%), eating crisps (18%), eating sweets (16%), swearing (12%), drinking fizzy drinks (10%), and smoking (10%). By contrast, virtually nobody could bear to be parted from the technological trappings of modern life, such as television, mobile phones, social media, internet shopping, computer games, or Ipod music. Fewer than half (47%) of the abstainers had kept up their sacrifice throughout the whole of Lent, with the Welsh (69%) and Scots (62%) having the most staying power; at the other end of the spectrum, 31% had lasted seven days or less. Lack of willpower (30%), the temptation of a special occasion (19%), stress (19%), and forgetfulness (18%) were the most commonly cited reasons for caving in early.

Church music

The current state of, in particular, Anglican church music is partially illuminated in the results of a survey undertaken by the Royal School of Church Music and published on 20 April 2013 in connection with the conference ‘Church Music: Sound Ministry?’ held at Canterbury Christ Church University. The survey was open during a three-week period in March 2013, for completion either online or by post, and the 205 respondents were entirely self-selecting. They were also disproportionately from the UK, Anglican, and from churches’ music departments (meaning that they probably reflect the views of larger churches, which can afford to sustain such departments). The research must therefore be considered as illustrative rather than statistically representative. The principal question topic concerned the demand for music genres outside the ‘usual repertoire’ of churches, notably the spread of pre-recorded music at services, including the rites of passage, with pop, classical, and other secular music recordings being prevalent at weddings and funerals. One-quarter of respondents reported that their church had refused to perform or provide some requested music on the grounds that it was inappropriate. A summary of the survey, prepared by Stuart Robinson, is at:

Prejudice against groups

Muslims are perceived to be the religious or ethnic group likely to experience most prejudice in Britain today, according to an online survey by Britain Thinks on behalf of British Future think tank, in which 2,032 adults aged 18 and over were interviewed on 16 and 17 March 2013. Topline results were published on 21 April in the appendix to Sunder Katwala, The Integration Consensus, 1993-2013: How Britain Changed Since Stephen Lawrence, which is available at:

Muslims were deemed to experience ‘a lot’ of prejudice by 54% of Britons, compared with 29% who said the same about Asians, 27% about white (Eastern) Europeans, 24% about blacks, 17% about Hindus, 17% about Sikhs, 14% about Jews, 11% about white British, 11% about Christians, 9% about people of mixed race, and 5% about atheists. Only 7% of the sample considered that Muslims suffered ‘hardly any’ prejudice, whereas for Hindus and Sikhs it was 23%, for Jews 28%, for Christians 50%, and for atheists 60%. These trends are broadly in line with previous poll evidence, including the widespread acceptability of atheism.

Abu Qatada

The British public generally shares the frustration of Home Secretary Theresa May and Prime Minister David Cameron about the current legal impasse with regard to the deportation to his native Jordan of Abu Qatada al-Filistini, the radical Muslim cleric given asylum in Britain in 1994 but who has since been implicated in Islamist terrorism, albeit he has not been convicted of any offences in the UK. A British court ruled in 2005 that Abu Qatada should be deported, but so far he has been able to block this in the British and European courts on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan as evidence obtained from torture might be used against him, despite new treaty guarantees from the Jordanian authorities that this would not be the case.

Although 51% of Britons agree that it would not be acceptable for evidence obtained by torture to be used against Abu Qatada (compared with 28% who say the opposite), far fewer (25%) argue that he should not be deported until the British Government is satisfied that the new treaty categorically ensures that evidence from torture will not be deployed. A clear majority (61%) wants Britain to deport Abu Qatada regardless of legal challenges and of what subsequently happens to him in Jordan; this view is strongly held by UKIP (90%) and Conservative (74%) supporters and by the over-60s (73%). Moreover, as many as 52% favour Britain’s temporary withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to be able to deport Abu Qatada, with 30% opposing this step (rising to 59% of Liberal Democrats) and 18% undecided.

These findings derive from a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, conducted online on 25 and 26 April 2013 among a sample of 1,898 Britons aged 18 and over. Data tables appear on pp. 12-13 at:

BRIN’s coverage of previous YouGov/Sunday Times polls relating to the Abu Qatada case can be found at:


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One Response to Assisted Dying and Other News

  1. Pingback: Religion and Law round up – 12th May | Law & Religion UK

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