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Majority of Catholics favour assisted dying

assisted dying_editTHE MAJORITY of Catholics want assisted suicide to be legalised, a major poll has found.

The survey, carried out by YouGov for the Westminster Faith Debates, revealed that 56 per cent of Catholics believe the law should be changed to give people with incurable diseases the right to ask a close friend or relative to help them commit suicide without facing prosecution.

A minority of three-in-10 said that Britain should uphold its present laws, under which those who assist someone in committing suicide face a manslaughter or murder charge, and 14 per cent reported that they do not know where they stand.

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Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, the study’s organiser, told The Irish Post that even churchgoing Catholics were found to be more likely to favour a change in the law than oppose it by a small margin of 44 per cent to 42 per cent.

“I was surprised that amongst those who are opposed, ‘sanctity of life’ is not what really matters,” she added. “Catholics are more concerned that vulnerable people will not be protected, and could be pressured to die.

“Assisted dying is an issue of great public concern, and one on which the Church has important things to say. I think it needs to be more effective in getting its message across, starting with its own members.”

The poll found that of those who oppose a change in the law, their main reason for doing so was the fear that it could cause vulnerable people to feel pressurised to choose to die. Only 57 per cent said their opposition was motivated by the belief that human life is sacred.

It was also discovered that only four per cent of Catholics say they take guidance from religious leaders, local or national, when making decisions. The majority said they rely on their own judgment, reason, and conscience.

Catholic Voice, a lobby group for Catholics in Britain, expressed its disappointment at the findings.

“You would expect a majority of non-practising Catholics to be formed more by the surrounding culture than the Church, but what the poll shows is that most practising Catholics are too,” said Austen Ivereigh, the group’s co-ordinator. “The finding that less than one in ten Catholics looks to their leaders on this and other issues shows it.”

The reason why the majority of Catholics are at odds with the Church’s teaching on assisted suicide, he added, is that the Church faces difficulties in bringing people into contact with its teaching.

“When you think how little chance practising Catholics have to engage with such issues, it is hardly surprising that prevailing social narratives in the media often win out. Going to Mass just doesn’t cut it, unless your parish priest makes a point of dealing with such issues in their homilies. But most don’t feel qualified.”

The YouGov survey also tracked the views of people from all major faiths. Majorities of Anglicans, Jews, Sikhs, Methodists and Presbyterians were also found to support a change in the law. Only among Muslims and Baptists did majorities oppose assisted suicide.

Of the 4,500 people polled, 391 were Catholic.

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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