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Unit 1:

Matters of Life

and Death


Page 3 Unit over view

Page 4 Key words
Page 5 Non-religious ideas about life after death
Page 6 Arguments against life after death
Page 8 How to answer a (b) question
Page 9 Christianity and the afterlife
Page 11 How to answer a (c) question
Page 12 Islam and the afterlife
Page 13 How to answer a (d) question
Page 15 The sanctity of life
Page 17 Abortion
Page 18 Arguments for and against abortion
Page 19 Christian teachings on abortion
Page 20 Muslim teachings on abortion
Page 21 Euthanasia
Page 22 Arguments for and against euthanasia
Page 23 The Hospice Movement
Page 24 Christian teachings on euthanasia
Page 25 Muslim teachings on euthanasia
Page 26 The influence of the media on issues of life and death
Page 31 Revision questions
Page 32 Mark scheme

In this topic you will learn and need to know for your GCSE:

  • Why Christians and Muslim believe in life after death and how beliefs about life after death affect their lives.

  • Non-religious reasons for believing in life after death (near-death experiences, ghosts, mediums, the evidence of reincarnation).

  • Why some people do not believe in life after death.

  • The nature of abortion, including current British legislation, and why abortion is a controversial issue.

  • Different Christian and Muslim attitudes to abortion and the reasons for them.

  • The nature of euthanasia including current British legislation, and why euthanasia is a controversial issue.

  • Christian and Muslim attitudes to euthanasia and the reasons for them.

  • Arguments for and against the media being free to criticise what religions say about matters of life and death.

You must learn this list of key words for the (a) part of the question:


The removal of a foetus from the womb before it can survive

Assisted suicide

Providing a seriously ill person with the means to commit suicide


The painless killing of someone dying from a painful disease

Immortality of the soul

The idea that the soul lives on after the death of the body

Near-death experience

When someone about to die has an out of body experience

Non-voluntary euthanasia

Ending someone’s life painlessly when they are unable to ask, but you have good reason for thinking they would want you to do so


Unexplained things which are thought to have spiritual causes eg ghosts,


Quality of life

The idea that life must have some benefits for it to be worth living


The belief that, after death, souls are reborn in a new body


The belief that, after death, the body stays in the grave until the end of the world when it is raised

Sanctity of life

The belief that life is holy and belongs to God

Voluntary euthanasia

Ending life painlessly when someone in great pain asks for death

A recent survey in Britain showed that 70% of those questioned thought that there is such a thing as life after death, even though most of them did not belong to a religion. Below are some reasons why non-religious people may have this belief:

Of course, not everyone believes that there is a life after death. In the twenty-first century we expect science to prove us with reliable answers. Despite all the tests that have been done, science has certainly not proved that life after death exists (but it hasn’t proved that it doesn’t either!).
Over the page are some arguments non-religious people give for not believing in a life after death.

Discussion Point

Below is a picture of a ghost at Hampton Court. What do you think?

A reminder of how to answer a (b) question:
This is where you are asked for your opinion and you have to give 2 reasons for why you agree or disagree. It must be one-sided rather than a yes and no answer.

Step 1
Decide whether your response it going to be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. There are no marks for saying this, but it is important to be clear in your mind what view you are going to take.

Step 2
When giving your reasons try to give full reasons rather than brief ones.
For example:

Q: ‘Do you think beliefs about life after death are only for religious people?’
A: No, the paranormal is proof (1 mark) and déjà vu isn’t religious (1 mark).
This answer is a bit brief and so only gets 2/4 marks.

Step 3
Go in to more detail/develop your reasons to get full marks.
For example:
I don’t think you have to be religious to believe in life after death. Some people with out a belief have paranormal experience such as seeing ghosts or having near death experiences. (2 marks)
Another reason is because under hypnosis some non-religious people remember what they did in a former life or at other times experience a sense of déjà vu. Both prove that there is life after death and plenty of people who aren’t religious believe they have a former life. (2 marks)

All Christians agree that there is life after death however there are 3 different views on what form this takes, and different ideas with in those opinions. This is based on either the idea of resurrection or the immortality of the soul.

  1. ResurrectionSome Christians believe that when the body dies nothing happens as the soul waits until when God will end the world at some point in the future. Both the dead and the living will then face God and will be judged on their faith and actions while living. Good Christians will go to heaven, the bad and those who are not Christians will go to hell.


    1. The Bible St. Paul said “But the truth is that Christ has been raised from the dead, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

    2. In the Creed (the statement of Christian belief) it says “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

    3. Jesus’ body was resurrected

  1. Immortality of the soul – Many other Christians believe that when people die, souls live on in a spiritual realm after being judged by God on their good and bad deeds. The good will go to heaven, the bad to hell.


  1. The Bible frequently refers to there being an afterlife e.g “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  2. Jesus said the criminal on the cross would be in paradise straight after death

  3. the communion of saints teaches that living and dead Christians can communicate with each other

  4. Things like near-death experiences when people say their soul has left their body and gone down a tunnel of light to God show the immortality of the soul.

  1. Roman Catholic Christians think that souls which have not sinned since their last confession to a priest will go straight to heaven and those who have been deliberately evil and not repented (said sorry) will go straight to hell.

They also believe in the existence of a 3rd place called purgatory. Those who have sinned but are not evil will go to purgatory which is like a waiting room. Souls stay in purgatory to be cleansed and then they go up to heaven.


  1. It is the teaching of the Church in the Catechism

  2. This teaching makes sense of the biblical teachings of resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul.

Purgatory will always lead to heaven

Good = Heaven Bad = Hell

HOWEVER, not all Christians believe in hell. Many modern Christians think that the after life is for all people regardless of religion and that hell is not a literal place. They believe in an all-loving God and so the idea that He would allow people to have an appalling eternity is unacceptable.

A reminder of how to answer the (c) question:

This questions tests that you know reasons for things, and not just what people think etc. It is also the question that your written English will be tested.

Step 2
Think of at least 2 reasons why some people think that there is a life after death and at least 2 reasons why some may not.
You must give at least 4 reasons in the (c) questions, 2 on one side and 2 on the other if this is what the question asks for.

Step 3
Write your ideas up in full sentences, one sentence for each reason.
Start the first paragraph:

Some people believe in life after death because …… . Another reason is because …..’

Then begin a new paragraph:

Other people do not believe in life after death because …. . Another reason is because ….’’

Step 4
Double check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Make sure that you have not used bullet points or slang.

Now try these (c) questions:

  1. Explain why there are different attitudes to life after death in Christianity (8).

  1. Explain why some people believe in life after death and others do not (8).

Akira (the belief in the afterlife) is a central part to Muslim belief and influences what a Muslim will do as they will not want to go to hell. Muslims share the view of some Protestant Christians as they believe in resurrection and the Day of Judgment.
The process has 5 parts:

  1. The angel of death will take the soul to barzakh, the waiting stage between the moment of death and judgment.

  1. On the Day of Judgment 2 angels will open a book which contains a record of everyone’s actions.

  1. If a person’s name is on the right-hand side, they will be sent to jannat (paradise) forever. This is described as a green garden, full of beautiful flowers and with the sound of birds and running water. People there enjoy wonderful food.

  1. If a person’s name is on the left-hand side, they will be sent to janannam (hell). This is described as a place of awful torment, fires, boiling water, scorching wind and black smoke. Those condemned to stay there are chained up to suffer eternal punishment.

  1. Everyone will try to reach jannat by going over the Assirat Bridge however those destined for janannam will fall off.

Muslims can avoid janannam by following the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Some Muslims also believe that non-Muslims who have led good lives may also go to jannat. Muslims are always buried, never cremated, so that their body is ready for resurrection. Muslims believe that those who do good things are rewarded; those who do bad things are punished.

Reasons Muslims believe there is a life after death:

  1. Every Muslim prophet, including Muhammad, taught that there was an afterlife

  2. It is reasonable to expect Allah to reward good behaviour and so there must be an afterlife

  3. It is part of the Shahadah (the 7 main beliefs all Muslims have) that there is a life after death

  4. The Qur’an says that there is. In Qur’an 30 it says:

All things shall in the end return to you Lord; that is He who moves to laughter and tears, and He who ordains death and life”


He brings forth the living and the dead, and the dead from the living: He resurrects the earth after its death. Likewise you shall be raised to life.”

A reminder of how to answer the (d) question:
This question gives a statement and wants you to evaluate it. You must give at least 2 reasons why you and others would agree, 2 reasons why some may disagree, and have made sure that you gave a religious reason.

Step 1
Think of reasons for and against and decide which side you agree with the most. To be honest it really doesn’t matter as no one will check. You just have to pick on side.

Step 3
Then tackle part (ii). Start this by saying ‘Some people may disagree with me because …’ Once again you need to write in detail to get full marks.
Then, double check you have:

  • given 2 reasons for the statement

  • 2 reasons to disagree with the statement

  • Give at least 1 religious point of view and reason

Step 2
Start with ‘I think …’and then go on to express as fully as you can 2 reasons you and others would agree/disagree with the statement. As with the (b) question, use detail/quotes to expand your ideas. You need to do this to get 3/3 for this.

Now try these:

  1. Religion is the best preparation for the afterlife.”

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.
(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

  1. Your soul will never die.”

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.
(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

Test your knowledge so far:

  1. What does resurrection mean? (2)

  1. Do you agree there is a heaven? Give two reasons for your point of view (4)

  1. Explain why Muslims believe there is a life after death (8 marks)

  1. There can’t be an afterlife.’

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.
(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

Christians and Muslims believe that life is special and holy and it is set apart for God’s purpose. This means that God gives life and so only God should take life away.
This is important when thinking about the issues involved in abortion, contraception, euthanasia, suicide, genetic engineering, medical treatment and technology.


Any question about Christianity and Islam and these subjects should refer to the sanctity of life and the belief that God is the only one who should take life away for some easy marks!

The sanctity of life comes from the belief that life is holy as it is created by God, so therefore all life belongs to him. Christians believe humans belong to God in a special way because they are made to be like God.
God created man in his own image.” (Genesis 1:27)
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” (Job 1:21)
Christians believe that life has special value and that all human life must be treated with care because they believe that God became human in the form of Jesus and then in spirit form (the Holy Spirit). Therefore the body should be treated with care and respect.

Muslims also share similar views, based on the belief that Allah created life and that He continues to be interested and involved in it. Birth is seen as a gift from Allah and so death is only something that happens because He commanded it.
Nor can a soul die except by God’s leave, the term being fixed as if by writing.” (Qur’an 3:145)
NOTE! Both religions share the idea that the taking of another life is wrong, even if it is sometimes unavoidable.

Discussion point

Look at the pictures below. When do you think life begins?

30 hours 6 weeks 8 weeks

14 weeks 18 weeks 20 weeks

23 weeks – a premature 24 weeks 9 months

baby which survived.

1. Write a paragraph explaining why the sanctity of life is important to religious people.

2. Write down how you feel about abortion and why. If you agree with it, up to how many weeks do you think a foetus could be aborted?

An abortion is the deliberate termination of the foetus in the womb.

Until 1967 abortions in the UK were illegal. This forced many women who did not want their babies to have illegal, back street abortions which were very dangerous.
Abortion was made legal by the Abortion Act 1967 (amended in 1990). It allows abortion up to 24 weeks in pregnancy as long as 2 doctors agree on one of the following 4 conditions:

  1. The mother’s life is at risk

  2. The mother’s physical or mental health is at risk

  3. The child might be born severely handicapped

  4. There is a risk to the health of the mother’s existing children

Abortions past 24 weeks are allowed to happen but only if there is a risk to the mother’s life and for no other reason.

Abortion is a very difficult dilemma. Opinion is largely dependant on personal opinion as to when life begins. Legally a foetus does not have the rights of born humans.

Below is the abortion statistics for 2006. What do you notice?
Number and percentage of abortions by gestation weeks, 2006
Gestation in weeks Number Per Cent
3-9 131,041 67.6

10-12 41,831 21.6

13-19 17,917 9.2

20 and over 2,948 1.5

Total 193,737 100
Number and percentage of abortions by statutory grounds, 2006
Ground for abortion Number Per Cent
Suspected abnormality of unborn child 2,036 1.1

Risk to mother’s life/emergency 149 0.1

Prevent grave permanent injury to mother’s health 1,059 0.5

Risk to health of existing children 2,753 1.4

Other risk to mother’s health 187,740 96.9

Total 193,737 100

There are many arguments put forward for and against abortion:

Arguments for abortion

Arguments against abortion

It is the woman’s right to choose. Her decision can impact on other areas in her life. It is her life and up to her what happens to her body

The foetus should be valued for the life that it is

If the baby is likely to have a poor quality of life then abortion may be the kindest thing to do. Charlotte Wyatt was born at 26 weeks with severe organ damage. She was blind and said to be in great pain before she finally died months later

Many people with disabilities lead happy and productive lives. This can not be estimated while the foetus is in the womb

In some countries abortion can help control over population e.g. Brazil is over crowded and so many suffer from poverty and in China, financial penalties are placed on people with more than 1 child. Abortion is not only acceptable but an obligation

Abortion can too often be treated as contraception, especially as now there is an abortion pill that does not require surgical procedures.

Conception may take place under violent circumstances e.g. rape and so allowing the pregnancy to continue could traumatise the mother even more

Even if a woman is raped it is not the fault of the foetus. It is still part of the woman and does not deserve to pay for what the father did

Many non-religious people have strong feelings about abortion and there are organizations which demonstrate about their feelings on the subject.

Pro-life organizations are against abortion such as SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child

Pro-choice organizations are for a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body


  1. Find out about these different groups

  2. Explain why abortion is such a controversial issue (8 marks)

Viewpoint 1

Some Christians such as the Roman Catholics are against abortion in every circumstance. They believe that life starts at conception and so they see abortion as murder.


  1. They follow the Commandment “Do not kill” (Exodus).

  2. Roman Catholics, like all Christians, believe in the sanctity of life (the idea that life is special).

  3. They believe that all life belongs to God and so only God should take life away

  4. The Roman Catholic Catechism teaches that it is wrong and that “From the first moment of his or her existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

Roman Catholics accept that not all pregnancies are wanted and that some are conceived in awful circumstances however they maintain that there are other options available to mothers who do not want to look after their children.

Viewpoint 2

Other Christians such as the Church of England and Methodist Church are also against abortion however they do accept it in extreme circumstances e.g. rape or when the mother is at risk.


  1. This is because abortion may be the lesser of 2 evils and so the most loving thing to do which is what Jesus taught that people should try to do.

  2. Allowing an abortion in some cases may be act of love and Christians believe that they should “Love thy neighbour.”

  3. The Church of England recently said that abortion was allowed “In situations where the continuation of pregnancy threatens the life of the mother” and in occasions where “serious foetal handicap” would result in survival of only a short period of time.

There are different attitudes to abortion in Islam. Like Christians, Muslims also hate abortion, but some argue that it could be allowed in some circumstances.
Attitude 1

For most Muslims abortion is not allowed, even more so if it is for a social reason such as poverty or a child would be inconvenient. Abortion is hated because:

  1. Muslims believe in the sanctity of life – the idea that life is sacred (special)

  2. As life is special it is something only Allah can take away

  3. Murder is forbidden by the Qur’an and punishable with hell and Muslims believe that Allah will provide for the child so social reasons are not allowed. “Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely killing them is a greater sin.”

  4. The Qur’an says that those who kill their children will be questioned by them on the Day of Judgement

However, Muslims do allow abortion but only 1 circumstance – if the mother’s life is at risk as this is considered the lesser of two evils and because the Qur’an says that the woman’s life is more important than that of the unborn child’s.

Attitude 2

However, there are some Muslims who argue that abortion should be allowed before 120 days. The reason for this is because they think that the soul does not enter the body before that. This is called ensoulment and until this point the mother has greater rights than the foetus does.

However, other Muslims say that it is impossible to say anything about the soul with certainty; therefore the foetus must be protected from conception and people will be protected from facing Allah on Judgment Day.


  1. What is meant by the term ‘abortion’?’ (2)

  1. Do you agree that Christians are against abortion? Give two reasons for your viewpoint. (4)

  1. Explain why some Muslims are against abortion ( 8 marks)

  1. Any woman should be able to have an abortion if she wants one.’

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.
(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

The word ‘euthanasia’ literally means a ‘good’ or ‘happy’ death; it usually refers to a mercy killing or prematurely ending the life of a terminally ill patient.
There are 4 types of euthanasia which you need to learn:

  • Active euthanasia is the result of positive action i.e. lethal injection, on the part of a carer, usually a medical professional.

  • Passive euthanasia is the termination of treatment that is prolonging the patient’s life. This may take the form of withdrawing the life support from a coma patient. Sometimes patients can give instructions for their life not to be prolonged at all costs in given circumstances. Even in these cases doctors do not have to follow these instructions.

  • Involuntary euthanasia is the ending of a patient’s life who is not able to make the decision for themselves e.g. someone who is in a coma

  • Assisted suicide is the provision of means and/or opportunity whereby a patient may terminate their life themselves e.g. giving someone immobile pills for them to take an overdose

Currently euthanasia is illegal in the UK although the courts may allow passive euthanasia in some special cases e.g. if someone has been in a coma for a long time and is not thought to ever come out of it. People can and are still prosecuted for taking the law in to their own hands and helping a friend or relative to die, even if it is what the patient wanted.
There have been a few cases of people wishing to obtain euthanasia traveling to foreign countries, including the Netherlands and Switzerland, in which euthanasia is legal under strict conditions however the relatives who assist them may be liable to prosecution in the UK.
This issue of legalizing euthanasia was discussed again in 2004 in Parliament although as yet it is still not legal. The main concern is that the law could be abused and would not protect people at a vulnerable time from people with unworthy motives.

Discussion point

Do you think it is morally right to keep alive people in pain?

There are many arguments for euthanasia, but equally there are many people with concerns about what may happen if euthanasia was made legal in the UK. Many people think that it would be a slippery slope if it became legal and that it would be impossible to stop it, and it could be abused by some people wanting financial gains.

Arguments for euthanasia

Arguments against euthanasia

It allows the patient a gentle, pain free death

The hospice movement in Britain aims to give excellent palliative care (pain relief) and so a painful death is not always the norm. There are alternatives.

It allows the patient to die with dignity, rather than suffering a slow death, facing increasing mental and physical deterioration in some cases

Not all diagnosed terminally ill patients die. If euthanasia was easily available the decision to die may be made too quick

It saves on hospital and medical expenses and frees beds for non-terminal patients

If euthanasia was openly practiced some patients may fear their doctors rather than trust them

It relieves the emotional and financial burden on families

It may put pressure on patients who do not wish to die but feel that they are too much of a burden to their relatives

The Hospice Movement
One argument that is given against euthanasia is that there is a hospice movement to help care for terminally ill people and their families. The hospice movement can provide care and pain relief in people’s own homes or admits patients in to its centres. It cares for people and their families until the patient dies and does its best to make sure that the death is as comfortable as possible.
The Christian Hospice Movement made this statement on euthanasia:
We are now always able to control pain in terminal cancer patients sent to us … euthanasia as advocated is wrong … it should be unnecessary and is an admission of defeat.”

Discuss the rights and wrongs of the following cases:

  1. A doctor treating an elderly, bed-ridden patient at home deliberately leaves powerful sleeping tablets by the bed with strict instructions that no more than two must be taken on any account. The patient has already told the doctor that she wants to die.

  1. A badly deformed baby is born and needs immediate maximum intensive care to survive. The mother also needs urgent medical care, and the doctor deliberately deals with her needs first.

  1. A brother and sister try to administer a potentially fatal overdose of powerful painkiller after their terminally ill mother begs them to end her suffering. They immediately tell hospital staff what they have done and the mother is brought back from the brink of death only to die in terrible pain 12 days later.

Many Christians are strongly against any euthanasia and believe that it is wrong to take any action to kill a patient or to fail to take action that would help them to survive, even if the action is intended to relieve suffering.

  1. The sanctity of life – life is special and holy

  2. The idea that all life belongs to God and so only God should take life away

  3. The Commandment “Do not kill”

  4. In the Bible 1 Samuel 2:6 says “The Lord kills and restores to life; he sends people to the world of the dead and brings them back to life.” This means that Christians should accept that God is omniscient and he may have a plan for us all, and that it is only up to God who lives and dies, and when this should happen.

However, some Christians may agree with switching off life-support machines if there is no chance of recovery


  1. At times it may be the most loving thing to do and Jesus taught that love and compassion are the most important things.

  1. Turning off a life support machine is not actually killing and it still leaves the decision about life and death to God.

  1. The idea of “Love thy neighbour”.

  1. Some abortions prevent more suffering from occurring and an aim of Christianity is to reduce the amount of suffering in the world

(a) What is meant by assisted suicide? (2)
(b) Do you agree that euthanasia should never be allowed? Give two reasons for your point of view (4)
(c) Explain why Christians are against euthanasia (8)
(d) ‘Euthanasia is just another name for murder.’

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.

(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

Muslims believe that all forms of euthanasia are wrong and religious teaching says that life must be protected.

  1. Muslims believe that any form of euthanasia is wrong because of their belief in the sanctity of life – life is special and holy.

  1. They believe that all life belongs to Allah and so only he can take life away

  1. Muslims also believe that it encourages murder and suicide which is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. Non-voluntary euthanasia would be classed as murder.

  1. Muslims believe that life is a test from God and this includes suffering. They believe that it is not up to people to know what God has planned and so we should not try to get out of, or avoid, any trials that he has planned for us.

  1. Muhammad told a story about a soldier who was injured in battle with no chance of survival. He killed himself to avoid the agony of a drawn out death and Allah sent him to hell for doing so as he had not shown courage or faith in his overall plan – he had not passed the test.

Some Muslims are even against the turning off of a life support machine as they feel that this is just as bad as other forms of euthanasia – it is allowing someone to die
However, some Muslims now allow life-support machines to be switched off but only if there are no signs of life.

  • This is because Muslims believe that religious law can be relaxed in some circumstances to relieve pain and suffering. The pain and suffering caused by terminal illness is not included under this law but the withdrawal of treatment is acceptable if it is causing unbearable hardship and it is done to relieve the pain and suffering of the patient and their family.

(a) What is meant by quality of life? (2)
(b) Do you agree that Muslims should never allow euthanasia? Give two reasons for your view point (4)
(c) Explain why some people think that euthanasia should be allowed. (8)

In this part you must study arguments for and against the media being free to criticise what religions say about matters of life and death. What you will be asked to comment on is the way the media handled the religious element of the story. Ask yourself; was it a one-sided approach designed to make the religious person appear stupid for following their beliefs?

Internet: this makes available news and opinions, but often it is not regulated or checked for accuracy

Newspapers: these have different styles of presentation and can indicate their own opinions on possible changes in the law

Radio: some radio stations play features dealing with issues of life and death e.g. Radio 1’s late night surgery

Situation comedies: the main aim of these is to make people laugh but because they take place in everyday situations the audience can relate to the characters

TV documentaries: these offer the opportunity to focus on major issues at length, identifying different points of view e.g Panorama

There are several forms of the media that allow issues of life and death to be presented to the public:

Soap operas: The use on going storylines to examine issues in depth in a way which is accessible to the general public. Often a helpline is given at the end for the audience to call if they have been affected by the issue

TV dramas: these are similar to soaps and some may specifically focus on matters of life and death

Films: these use a detailed plot to examine an issue in depth, often based on a novel that has already introduced the idea to a smaller audience

An example:

Look at the following newspaper report from November 2007.

Twenty-two-year old Emma Gough died just hours after giving birth to twins at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she had signed a form refusing a blood transfusion before the birth and the hospital was powerless to intervene.
After a normal delivery, Emma suffered a massive loss of blood. Medics begged her husband and family to over rule her decision and let her have blood, but they refused.
Part of the Jehovah faith says the Bible prohibits the “consumption, storage and transfusion of blood” and quotes the book of Acts. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that to have a transfusion is the same as consuming or eating blood.

After just reading this bit what do you think Emma Gough’s husband should have done? What should the medical team have done? Why?

Background to the issue
Witnesses believe that God has forbidden this in Bible passages such as:

Only flesh with its soul-its blood-you must not eat” Genesis 9:3-4

Abstain from ... fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” Acts 15:19-21
Accepting a blood transfusion willingly and without regret is seen as a sin. The Witness concerned would no longer be regarded as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Witnesses are willing to absolve doctors of responsibility by signing forms with appropriate wording such as:

As a member of the religious body of Jehovah's Witnesses, I categorically refuse the use of foreign blood or blood components during my surgery. I am aware that the planned and needed procedure thus has a higher risk due to bleeding complications. After receiving thorough explanation particularly about that, I request that the needed surgery be performed without using foreign blood or blood components.”

Doctors generally feel that respect for the patient's autonomy requires that this wish should be obeyed. They have sound legal reasons for this too, as to administer blood in the face of refusal by a patient may be unlawful and could lead to criminal and/or civil proceedings.

What different people said:

  • A neighbour said: “She was selfish. She should have thought of her babies first, not herself. She’s left those little tots without a mother.”

  • A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: “It’s a tragic case but its cut and dried from where we are standing. The doctor’s hands are tied. Competent adults have the right to refuse any medical treatment, even if that refusal results in permanent physical injury or death. I am sure the doctors would have done all they could to try to persuade this woman or her family to allow the blood transfusion but you can’t force someone to. To do so would be against the Human Rights Act.”

  • By email: ‘It’s her life, no one else has a right to tell her what she can and can’t do with it.’

  • A Dublin court recently overruled a mother in a similar situation and said that the doctors must give her blood because her child has a right to a mother.

  • A spokesman for the local Kingdom Hall, where Emma and Anthony worshipped, said: “This is a terrible time for the whole family. They are all grieving terribly. The entire Witness community is distraught and including them in their prayers.”

After just reading this bit does this extra bit of fact change your mind? Why? What considerations need to be taken in to account before a newspaper prints a story or picture concerning a tragic death?

  • Tasks:

    1. Who do you think the media are likely to cast as the hero and villain?

    1. Make a list of as many different issues as you can think of that are raised by this story. A few areas could be: life and death; personal freedom; family responsibilities; whether the state should tell you what to do.

    1. Should the media be free to say what they like about these issues? Why?

Freedom or interference?

Some people would say that the media have every right, not only to report life and death stories but also, to pass an opinion. After all, we live in a free society where everyone has the right to their opinion. Those who read a newspaper or listen to the media are equally free to agree or disagree with the approach that was taken.

Others claim the media interfere in people’s private lives and they don’t care what harm they do. Only the stories that are likely to sell papers, or increase viewing figures, get reported. Sometimes the ‘facts’ selected, or the way they are reported, only half tell the story. This is fair because it can prejudice people’s views. Overnight heroes and villains are created out of ordinary people struggling in a crisis.

Another example:

In 2009 Eastenders covered the issue of abortion. Danielle, a girl in her late teens became pregnant by accident after a one night stand. She goes with Ronnie to the abortion clinic and has an abortion. Ronnie also got pregnant at an early age and regretted giving her baby up for adoption and she questions whether Danielle is doing the right thing or not.
You can watch relevant clips of the episodes on YouTube. Type in ‘Ronnie and Danielle Eastenders Clips’.

  • Do you think the issue was handled well?

  • Was it one-sided?

  • Did it make the audience think?

  • Was it fair to Danielle’s and Ronnie’s position or was she or Ronnie made out to be villains?

  • Could you give examples to back up your ideas in an answer?

  • How would you explain how this issue was handled with out only describing what happened?

When answering a question on the influence of the media which asks about how fair issues are treated:

Step 1
Write a sentence saying what issue was featured e.g. abortion, euthanasia etc and where it was featured e.g. abortion in Eastenders, blood transfusions in a newspaper. This tells the examiner what you are focusing on.
Don’t be tempted to describe what happened in detail e.g this happened then that happened – you will not be able to get full marks.

Step 2
Write a sentence about how the media handled the issue. Was it fair? Did they praise one side more than the other? Or were they too critical?

Step 3

Why do you think it is good for people to be informed about issues like this?

Now try these:
(b) Do you agree that there should be no news censorship. Television programmes should show things exactly as they happen. Give two reasons for your view point. (4)
(c) Choose ONE issue of life and death that was dealt with in the media and explain whether you thought it treated religious beliefs fairly. (8)
(d) ‘Religious views about death are a personal matter; the media have got no right to criticize.’

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion.

(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

Revision – remember that you can use the online revision materials on the School website too. Double check that you are answering the different questions correctly by referring back to p7 for the (b) question, p10 for the (c) question and p12 for the (d) question.


(a) What does sanctity of life mean? (2)

(b) Do you agree with assisted suicide?

Give two reasons for your point of view (4)

(c) Choose ONE religion other than Christianity and explain why there are different attitudes to abortion in that religion. (8)
(d) “When you’re dead, you’re dead and that’s the end of you.”

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion

(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)


(a) What is voluntary euthanasia? (2)

(b) Do you think ghosts prove there is life after death?

Give two reasons for your point of view (4)

(c) Explain why there are different attitudes to euthanasia in the UK (8)
(d) ‘The media always makes fun of religious beliefs about life after death’

In your answer you should refer to at least one religion

(i) Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer (3)
(ii) Give reasons why some people may disagree with you (3)

The mark scheme

The (a) question:

1 mark

Partly correct answer

2 marks

Correct answer

The (b) question:

1 mark

Your opinion + brief reason

2 marks

  • Your opinion + 2 brief reasons

  • Your opinion + one expanded reason

3 marks

  • Your opinion + 1 brief reason AND 1 expanded reason

4 marks

  • Your opinion + 2 expanded reasons

The (c) question:

1-2 marks

  • 1 attitude + brief reason

  • 2 attitudes

3-4 marks

  • 1 attitude + 2 brief reasons

  • 1 attitude + 1 expanded reason

  • 2 attitudes + 2 brief reasons

5-6 marks

  • 1 attitude + 2 brief reasons AND another attitude + 1 brief reason

  • 1 attitude + expanded reason AND another attitude + 1 brief reason

7-8 marks

  • 2 attitudes + 2 brief reasons and 1 expanded reason

  • 2 attitudes + 2 expanded reasons

The (d) question: For (i) and (ii)

1 mark

  • 1 brief reason

2 marks

  • 2 brief reasons

  • 1 expanded reason

3 marks

  • Two expanded reasons

  • 1 well explained reason

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