Attitudes towards legalising physician provided euthanasia in Britain: The role of religion over time

Andriy Danyliv, C. O'Neill

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38 Citations (Scopus)


Hastening the death of another whether through assisted suicide or euthanasia is the subject of intense debate in the UK and elsewhere. In this paper we use a nationally representative survey of public attitudes – the British Social Attitudes survey – to examine changes in attitudes to the legalisation of physician provided euthanasia (PPE) over almost 30 years (1983–2012) and the role of religious beliefs and religiosity in attitudes over time. Compatible questions about attitudes to euthanasia were available in the six years of 1983, 1984, 1989, 1994, 2005, and 2012. We study the trends in the support for legalisation through these time points and the relationship between attitudes, religious denomination and religiosity, controlling for a series of covariates. In total, 8099 individuals provided answers to the question about PPE in the six years of the study. The support for legalisation rose from around 76.95% in 1983 to 83.86% in 2012. This coincided with an increase in secularisation exhibited in the survey: the percentage of people with no religious affiliation increasing from 31% to 45.4% and those who do not attend a religious institution (e.g. church) increasing from 55.7% to 65.03%. The multivariate analysis demonstrates that religious affiliation and religiosity as measured by religious institution attendance frequency are the main contributors to attitudes towards euthanasia, and that the main increase in support happened among the group with least religious affiliation. Other socio-demographic characteristics do not seem to alter these attitudes systematically across the years. Our study demonstrates an increase in the support of euthanasia legalisation in Britain in the last 30 years coincided with increased secularisation. It does not follow, however, that trends in public support are immutable nor that a change in the law would improve on the current pragmatic approach toward hastening death by a physician adopted in England and Wales in terms of the balance between compassion and safeguards against abuse offered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-56
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date29 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

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Export Date: 7 March 2017


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