In an unprecedented move, nine leading figures from the six major faith groups in the UK have joined forces to give a serious warning about any proposed change in the law to allow assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. The action comes just a few days before the high profile debate in the House of Lords on the Select Committee report on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, on 10 October.

The nine leaders, representing many millions of adherents, today published an open letter - signed by them all - that will be sent to all members of both Houses of Parliament later today.

The religious leaders remind Parliament that legalising assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia would radically alter the moral basis of our society by severely undermining respect for life. They collectively re-affirm their belief in the sanctity of human life which is underpinned by rapid advances in palliative care. These mean that suffering can be minimised - the arguments put forward by the pro-euthanasia lobby that assisted suicide is necessary to ease the sufferings of the terminally ill therefore lack any credible scientific evidence.

The leaders also stress the opposition of the vast majority of medical professionals, including GPs, to any change in the law on intentional killing. They point to the serious problems being faced by countries that have legalised euthanasia or assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, 1 in 32 deaths now involves some element of legal or illegal euthanasia; a similar law in the UK could lead to 13,000 deaths a year. Furthermore Dutch pro-euthanasia groups are now campaigning for further relaxations, for example to include people suffering from dementia. They conclude with a warning that the so-called 'right to die' would inexorably become the duty to die and potentially economic pressures and convenience would come to dominate decision-making.

Welcoming the letter, the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans, said, "As a member of the House of Lords Select Committee I warmly welcome the stance taken by leaders of the faith communities in our country. It indicates the gravity and breadth of concern felt by many in the country about the possible Bill, a concern which deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness."

The open letter to Members of both Houses of Parliament was personally signed by:

  1. Bimal Krishna das
    General Secretary
    National Council of Hindu Temples (UK)
  2. Sheikh Dr M.A. Zaki Badawi
    Principal Muslim College and Chair Muslim Law Sharia Council
  3. Joel Edwards
    General Director
    Evangelical Alliance
  4. The Rt Revd Tom Butler
    Bishop of Southwark
    Church of England
  5. Peter Smith
    Archbishop of Cardiff
    Catholic Church in Great Britain
  6. Sir Jonathan Sacks
    The Chief Rabbi
  7. His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain
  8. Lama Jampa Thaye
    Spiritual Director of the Dechen Community
  9. Dr Indarjit Singh
    Director Network of Sikh Organisations

Full text of the faith leaders' letter