A Quaker Exploration

A collection of reflective essays, written with careful consideration and depth on the issue of assisted dying. The eleven contributions are from writers with a variety of experiences and specialisations, written from different perspectives.

A timely, useful aid to personal and group reflection. It has a range of opinions and is clear and readable   Stevie Krayer

The debate for and against assisted dying needs balance. I hope that this Quaker initiative adds to it   David Shutt, Quaker   House of Lords



Harvey Gilman, Quaker thinker, writer and broadcaster, writes about the way Quakers, individually and collectively, discern and consider a challenging issue with reference to the Quaker Testimonies.


Alison Leonard, a founder member of the Quaker Dying and Death Group, shares her personal thoughts on the challenge of assisted dying.


Martin Schweiger, a public health expert, considers assisted dying from the point of view of a Quaker doctor.


Rosemary Daley follows this with a description of her experience of working as a physician engaged in palliative care.


Tom Shakespeare, professor of disability research, explores the issue from the point of view of disabled people.


Mike Nellis, professor of criminology, looks at the legality of the issue and gives examples of practices in other countries where assisted dying has been legalised.


Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy, considers the morality of assisted dying with reference to suicide, euthanasia and dementia.


Benjamin Wood, a Quaker theologian, offers a study of the morality of the issue and the difficulty it presents to Quakers.


Quentin Fowler and Judy Kessler write about dementia and its effects on the individual and carers. They give personal responses to this situation.


Anne Wade, a nurse who worked in palliative care, shares her experience of dying where love is given up to the end.


Jan Arriens describes his friendship with prisoners on Death Row and likens this experience of waiting for death with patients with terminal illness.

Quentin Fowler on dementia: If I were capable of such thoughts I could well be asking myself “Is this what I want? I have had a full life; would continuing with it be somewhat futile? Yes, I want to stop now, thank you very much.”

Anne Wade on assisted dying: Life is something extraordinary from anyone’s point of view, to be cherished, not to be terminated on grounds of expediency.

Editors: Quentin Fowler, Barbara and Paul Henderson, Judy Kessler, Jill Page

Published by Leeds Area Quaker Meeting


“…. For some of us, life itself can become a challenge, with every breath being one of pain and suffering. Members of Leeds Area Meeting end-of-life care group have engaged with the issue for many years…

… In our Area Meeting, and beyond, this work has led to an examination of conscience. It has acted as a reminder of the efforts of Friends and others who were fundamental to the establishment of hospices … and of those involved in palliative care. As an Area Meeting we have tried to work out the best way forward for this concern and we have sought, in the words of the Quaker, Isaac Penington (1616-1679), to uphold each other ‘with a tender hand’, even when – particularly when – we have been in disagreement.

These specially commissioned essays provide a space for us to consider and re-consider our confused and conflicted notions about death, dying, and end-of-life care. From different vantage points and in spirit of deep seeking, the contributors prompt us to contemplate difficult aspects of our own lives and of those around us, and to work out where we stand, or might stand, as Quaker.”

Robert Keeble and Veronica O’Mara
Co-clerks, Leeds Area Quaker Meeting

Background and Purpose

The publication arose from discussion and research among Leeds Quakers over a period of four years. A grant means that copies of Assisted dying – a Quaker exploration are being sent to every local Quaker meeting in Britain. All the contributors except one are members of the Society of Friends.

The dilemma of assisted dying has deep moral implications and is complex both for individual and collective discernment. Assisting someone to die is illegal in Britain. Attempts have been made in recent years to change the law. All of them have been unsuccessful. Legislators have also sought to clarify how the law on assisting someone to commit suicide might be enforced. A prosecution is less likely if the assisted person made a voluntary, well-informed decision to end his or her life, and if the assister was wholly motivated by compassion.

The issue of assisted dying presents Quakers with major challenges and dilemmas, especially in relation to the Quaker testimonies – the ways in which Friends testify or bear witness to their beliefs in their everyday life: peace, truth, equality and simplicity. One Friend said: ‘I try to live up to Quaker testimonies. I try to make rational decisions and I want to do the same at my death.’

The book’s purpose is to be a resource for Quakers who wish to consider the issue of assisted dying and to stimulate reflection and discussion among Friends.




Contributors and editors


  1. Testimony and discernment

    Harvey Gillman

  2. How do I feel about assisted dying?

    Alison Leonard

  3. Palliative physicians – why are we so uneasy about assisted dying?

    Rosemary Daley

  4. One Quaker doctor’s view on end of life care

    Martin Schweiger

  5. Disability and assisted dying

    Tom Shakespeare

  6. Assisted dying: reflections of a criminologist

    Mike Nellis

  7. Autonomy and dignity: a Quaker theological response to assisted dying

    Benjamin J. Wood

  8. The morality of assisting others to die

    Jeff McMahan

  9. Dementia and assisted dying

    Quentin Fowler with Judy Kessler

  10. Life and death

    Anne Wade

  11. The ministry of dying – reflections on death row

    Jan Arriens


(i)The law in the UK & elsewhere

(ii)Leeds research

Selected bibliography

Price and purchasing

Assisted dying costs £9 per copy.
To buy contact the Quaker Bookshop:

or Quacks Bookshop
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Telephone: 01904 635967