Polly Toynbee is wrong: assisted suicide is not a ‘religious’ issue

Polly Toynbee says that a religious lobby is behind opposition to assisted suicide (PA)

Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill for the Terminally Ill Bill has attracted 175 proposed amendments which are currently being debated at committee stage today in the House of Lords.

Polly Toynbee has written in the Guardian this morning that we “must not allow the religious opponents of Falconer’s Bill to wreck it”. In 2005 Toynbee wrote another article entitled “The bishops have no right to restrict our right to die” and made the same point yet again in 2006 for those of you who weren’t paying attention the first time.

It is a favourite myth of some assisted suicide enthusiasts to suggest that those who oppose doctors helping their patients to kill themselves, do so for religious reasons and that were it not for the bishops in the Lords, assisted suicide would be law by now. But the reality is that when the House of Lords last held a major vote on the issue in May 2006, Lord Joffe’s Bill was defeated by a majority of 48 votes and would have still been defeated had the 14 bishops present at the time not voted.

To persist in suggesting that a powerful religious lobby in the Lords is preventing the “right-to-die” from entering the statute book is simply untrue. Some of the most persuasive opponents of assisted suicide include Lord Carlile of Berriew, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and Lord Winston who are not religious but recognize through their personal and professional experience the dangers which such a law poses. If this Bill progresses to the House of Commons you may be surprised to hear members such as Diane Abbot who is a vocal proponent of abortion rights, speak against the Bill.

Toynbee tells us today that “the right to die is the last great freedom still to be won by my generation, before we all drop off the perch”.

If Toynbee is determined to win this “freedom” she is at liberty to try. But she must also respect that many of us seriously fear, for evidence-based, common-sense reasons, that beneath this “freedom” lurks the stench of coercion and that such a law would prove a perversion of freedom; a tool for oppressing the weak and the vulnerable. To zealously dismiss oppossition to assisted suicide on the basis that it is driven by religious belief is inaccurate as is it tedious.

Polly’s pearls of wisdom are never in short supply, especially on this subject, so I’m sure that we can expect a steady flow over the following months. But in future, could she please stick to the facts rather than perpetuating boring myths?