- First ever poll of Red Wall voters on assisted dying finds 72% of voters in Red Wall seats support legalisation of assisted dying; 9% opposed
- Support even higher amongst Conservative voters (76%) and Leave voters (75%)
- Focus groups in Red Wall and Blue Wall seats find overwhelming support for assisted dying
Research undertaken by JL Partners has found that the overwhelming majority of voters in Red Wall seats support assisted dying. The first ever survey of the Red Wall on the subject reveals 72% of people support assisted dying for terminally ill adults of sound mind, compared to just 9% who are opposed to a change in the law. Conservative voters (76%) and Leave voters (75%) are even more likely to support law change.
The research, commissioned by Dignity in Dying, found that 43% of those surveyed had cared for or witnessed a friend or family member who suffered unbearably towards the end of life. A third of respondents said they had cared for a loved one who they would have liked to have had the right to an assisted death.
Focus groups conducted alongside the Red Wall poll found huge similarities between Tory voters in the Red Wall, swing voters in the Blue Wall, and Conservative Party members, where participants were strongly in favour of assisted dying. Many focus group participants thought assisted dying chimed closely with Conservative values because it represented an issue of personal choice.
The research also found that people were also generally unaware that assisted dying was permitted in parts of the USA and Australia, and nationwide in Canada and New Zealand. When told of these developments, participants found comfort that assisted dying had been legalised in countries similar to the UK, but thought this meant the UK was being left behind, compared to “pioneering” and “ahead of the game” countries where assisted dying was permitted.
Half of those polled felt more positively about assisted dying in the UK due to the legalisation of assisted dying overseas.
The poll also found widespread support for assisted dying to be made available on the NHS if it were to be legalised, with two thirds (67%) agreeing. Focus group participants also strongly agreed with the idea, to ensure that choice is not only available to “the rich and privileged”. This was seen as contrary to the current situation where seeking an assisted death in Switzerland through organisations like Dignitas was an option available only to those with the resources to afford it.
James Johnson of JL Partners, who conducted the research, said:
“Our research found very significant support in the Red Wall for assisted dying, by a margin of 72% supporting and only 9% opposing. In the context of policies I’ve tested over the years, that is a really significant margin – and it’s even larger amongst Conservative voters.
“We also found that voters are persuaded of the effectiveness of the safeguards built into the proposed assisted dying laws, and that ultimately the vast majority of people see this as a matter of personal choice.”
Helen Thomas, 59, is a business-owner who lives in the constituency of Hyndburn, which was won by the Conservatives in 2019. Helen witnessed her daughter Gemma Nuttall, a dental nurse, suffering unbearably from terminal cancer before she died in 2018. Helen said:
“My beautiful daughter was diagnosed with womb cancer while she was pregnant at the age of just 25. The next few weeks, months and years were a blur of surgeries, chemotherapy, remissions and relapses, even trips to Germany on a three-weekly basis for treatments which weren’t available here. But in the end the cancer had spread throughout her body and we were unable to stop it. Gemma died over several days in a hospice and while all efforts were made to keep her comfortable and sedated, she did not go peacefully or quietly.
“My own experiences reflect a major finding of the research: the importance of choice. Gemma did not choose to get cancer, did not choose to die, and most certainly would not have chosen to die in the way she did, had the option of assisted dying been available to her. We need a new law so that dying people like my daughter need not suffer in their final days of life, against their wishes.”
Tom Davies, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Dignity in Dying, said:
“We’ve long known that assisted dying is a policy that unites the country, across all demographics and political leanings. This is the first time that voters in the all-important Red Wall seats have been asked for their views and the results are clear: an overwhelming majority support a change in the law to permit dying adults of sound mind to have choice and control over their deaths.
“With the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and the States of Jersey due to debate assisted dying proposals in the coming weeks and months, and the recent news that the BMA has dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying, there has never been a greater likelihood of assisted dying being legalised in the UK. Evidence from overseas demonstrates that assisted dying laws are safe, compassionate and robust; this research demonstrates that they would be incredibly popular too.”
For more information or interview requests, please contact Tom Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7479 7734 or 07725 433 025.
Notes on methodology:
Polling was conducted by JL Partners between 11th- 19th August 2021. 500 adults were polled in 45 seats the Conservatives gained from Labour in the 2019 General Election, across the North of England, the Midlands, and Wales. Responses were weighted to be representative of these 45 seats based on 2019 vote, gender, age, education, social grade and 2016 referendum vote. JL Partners is a member of the British Polling Council (BPC). Full tables of the poll will be published online on the JL Partners website or can be sent on request.
Three focus groups were held
- in Blyth Valley, the first Conservative gain on election night 2019, composed of first-time Tory voters, who remain perhaps the key constituency for whoever hopes to form the next government;
- in Guildford, one of the successfully defended Conservative seats in the South East, where a mix of longstanding Tory voters and ex-Tory swing voters took part; and
- a second Guildford group where Conservative Party members and activists were asked for their views.
Notes to Editor
Dignity in Dying
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live.
Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
The British Medical Association (BMA) last week (Tuesday 14 September 2021) voted to drop its official opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying in favour of neutrality, following a debate at its Annual Representative Meeting.
The largest ever poll of British doctors on assisted dying, conducted by the BMA in February 2020, results of which were released in October 2020, found overwhelming support for a change to the BMA’s current stance of opposition to an assisted dying law (61%), and that half of doctors personally support a change in the law (50%).
In March 2019, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.
The Royal Society of Medicine, Royal College of Nursing (and Royal College of Nursing Scotland), the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society all also hold neutral positions on assisted dying.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Association of British Neurologists, General Medical Council, General Pharmaceutical Council, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Pathologists, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Royal College of Radiologists and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh have no stated position on a change in the law on assisted dying.
In September 2020, Eminent GPs Prof Aneez Esmail and Sir Sam Everington launched a legal challenge to the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) alongside the Good Law Project and Dignity in Dying over RCGP Council’s decision to maintain opposition to assisted dying despite its own survey showing a dramatic shift in GP opinion. The Association for Palliative Medicine and the Royal College of Surgeons of England also hold a stance of opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying.
Assisted Dying Bill
Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill was selected seventh in the House of Lords private members ballot in May and received its First Reading on Wednesday 26th May 2021. It will receive its Second Reading on Friday 22 October 2021. The full text can be found here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2875. It is based on a bill introduced by Lord Falconer in 2014. Rob Marris MP introduced a similar bill in 2015 which was defeated in the Commons.
The functioning of the current law on assisted dying was the subject of a Backbench Business Committee Debate in July 2019 and a Westminster Hall debate in January 2020, at which a majority of MPs speaking called for a review of present legislation.
In April 2021, the then Health Secretary announced to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life that he had requested data from the Office for National Statistics on suicides by terminally ill people and assisted deaths in Switzerland of British nationals. This followed comments Mr Hancock made in the House of Commons in November 2021 and January 2021 highlighting the Government’s role in obtaining a fuller understanding of the functioning of current assisted dying laws and stressing the importance of suicide prevention and patient safety measures.
Assisted Dying Scotland Bill
Liam McArthur, Lib Dem MSP for Orkney, lodged the ‘Assisted Dying Scotland’ Members Bill proposal with the Non-Government Bill Unit (NGBU) of the Scottish Parliament in June 2021. A Consultation on the contents of the bill is planned to begin later this week.
The proposal seeks to introduce the right to choose an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland.
Jersey’s citizen’s jury on assisted dying
Since March 2021 a citizen’s jury in Jersey has met to hear expert and personal testimony on assisted dying and to consider a change in the law on the island. The jury published a full report on its recommendations in September, calling for islanders who are terminally ill and unbearably suffering to be able to request medical assistance to end their own life.
Over the coming months the States of Jersey will develop policy proposals and the jury will publish a final report before a debate in the States Assembly by the end of this year.
In the US, assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in 11 jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and New Mexico (legislation approved April 2021).
In Australia, assisted dying is a legal choice for terminally ill citizens in Victoria (June 2019), Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia (legislation approved June 2021). A bill is currently being debated in Queensland.
New Zealand is set to implement an assisted dying law allowing this option for terminally ill, mentally competent citizens by November 2021, following a public referendum on the End of Life Choice Act in October 2020.
Spain passed a law allowing assisted dying in March 2021 to be implemented later this year.
In Ireland, assisted dying is set to be examined by a Special Oireachtas Committee, as recommended by the Justice Committee in July 2021.
Austria’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2020 that its blanket ban on assisted dying is unconstitutional and the practice will be decriminalised in limited circumstances by 2022.
Germany began considering potential assisted dying legalisation in January 2021 after its Constitutional Court struck down the ban in 2020.
Canada introduced assisted dying legislation in 2016 permitting those suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition.
Assisted dying is permitted in Switzerland, including for foreign nationals, and broader right-to-die laws are in place in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.