Religion, Parliament and the End of Life Debate: How do Religious Beliefs Influence the Legislative Process of England and Wales?

AuthorJacqueline Powell
[2014] Sou tha mpton Stud ent Law Review Vol.4
Religion, Parliament and the End of Life Debate: How
do Religious Beliefs Influence the Legislative Process of
England and Wales?
Ja cqueline Pow ell
Followin g failed pr oposals to develop the law of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide,
there is a need to examine a shared feature present in each unsu ccessfu l
develop men t - r eligion . Religious beliefs have h istorically played a significan t role in
the legislative process of England and Wales; but in light of increasing liberalisation
and dwindling religious pra ctice, it is qu estionable as to wh at extent religious beliefs
do and should influ ence Parliam ent ary decision-m akin g. Such questions are
explored here th rough discussions of religiou s m orality and religiou s representation
in Par liamen t, with particular regard to religious influence over th e law of
Euth anasia an d Assisted Su icide. This paper also addresses the role of religion in a
twenty-first centu ry secu lar society, the direct an d indir ect effects of religion on
Parliamen t, an d th e r elation ship between religion, Parliam ent and society. Through
analysis of Hansard, legislative proposals, judicial perspectives, religious doctr ine,
religious lobbying and pressure gr ou ps, t his pap er demon strates that religious
influence is still pr evalen t in UK Parliam ent . Th e r ecommendation followin g this
findin g is that official r eligious representation of the Church of England in
Parliam en t th rough th e Lords Sp iritual sh ould be reduced or eradicat ed by the
reintroduction of the House of Lord s Reform Bill, or similar legislative proposal,
allowing for democrat ic religious representation by the Lords Tem poral. Furt her
issu es for research emergin g from the findin gs of this paper includ e the impact of
religious debates in the media on the legislative pr ocess, the retent ion and futur e of
the General Synod in Parliam ent and the significan ce (if any) of personal religious
views in the H ouse of Com mons.
eligious beliefs have always played a significant role in the developmen t of the
law govern in g En gland and Wales. Never theless, secularism and dwind lin g
religious pract ice 1 raise the question of wh et her religion does, and should still
1‘Church of England continues to shrink according to official figures’ (National Secular Society, 19 Jan 2012)
figures> accessed 05/02/2013
S.S.L.R R eligion , Parlia men t and t he End of Life Deba te Vol.4
significantly influ ence Parliam ent ary decision s, particu larly regar ding Euth anasia
and Assist ed Suicide. Judicial competence in th is area is doubtful2, leaving such
issu es in the han ds of Parliamen t. This paper will d iscuss previous par liamentary
proposals to change t he law on Eu thanasia and Assisted Suicid e and explore the
impact of religion on their failures. In or der to do this effectively, at tention m ust be
drawn t o the wid er issues faced by th e inter relation of law and religion. With over
50% of people r egardin g themselves as not belonging to an y part icular religion 3, 71%
disagr eeing with the statem ent that ‘Religious leaders should have in fluen ce over th e
decisions of governm ent4 and 84% of people against any further Christian influence
on politics than is already present5, th is is an issu e in gr ave need of addressin g,
part icular ly followin g the with drawal of the House of Lord s Refor m Bill in 20 126.
Chapter on e of this paper will evaluate the role and value of religion in En gland and
Wales and how religion is repr esen ted in Parliam en t. It will also explore how th e
public view r eligion in Parliam ent , wit h discussions of recent proposals and
developmen ts surr oundin g this issue. Chapt er two will consider religious an d secu lar
views towar ds Eu thanasia and Assist ed Suicide, with a summary of recen t case law,
Bills, r epor ts an d amen dment s. The third and fin al cha pter will inclu de an analysis of
religious influence in relat ion to the proposed legislative developm ents discussed in
chapter two. This chapter will also exp lore religion in relation to informal political
influences such as APPGs and lobbying groups, an d evaluate the gener al
appr opriat eness of r eligiou s influen ce in Pa rliam ent .
This paper is not intended to address issues of wh ether Euthanasia and Assisted
Suicide should be legalised, but in stead aim s to evaluate the influence of religion on
Parliamen t an d th e legislative process, with particular regard to the illegality of
Euth anasia and Assisted Suicide. It is however im portant to note that this study may
not be generalizable to all areas of law, with Eu thanasia and Assisted Suicid e bein g
part icularly content ious issu es. Ultim ately, the centr al them es of this paper are to
assess whether religion has a futur e in the legislative pr ocess, understand the
relat ionsh ip between religion, th e legisla tive process and th e rule of la w, and evaluate
th e role of religion in t he twenty-fir st centu ry.
Re lig io n, So cie ty a nd Parlia men t
The valu e of religion in society
Religion; from teachings, doctrines, commun it ies, beliefs, traditions, and leaders,
Jud aeo-Christian values are en trenched in English Society. However, the role of
religion has never gon e un doubted. Religious influence on law an d morality is often
contested, for example the famou s debate between Lord Devlin and Pr ofessor Hart,
which h as since spar ked vast academ ic discussion. With the view th at religion is
2 Tony Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice and Others [2012] EWHC 304, per Lord Justice Toulson, [150]
3 ‘YouGov-Cambridge Survey Results’, (YouGov, 13 September 2012)
_21-Aug-2012_F.pdf > p21 , accessed 15/11/2012
4 Ibid p22
5 Ibid p24
6 House of Lords Reform HC Bill, (2012-2013)

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