[ACNS] Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, have spoken out against proposals to change the law in England and Wales to allow doctors to assist terminally ill patients to administer life-ending drugs. The proposals are contained in the Assisted Dying Bill, which has been presented to Parliament by the back-bench MP Rob Marris. MPs will have their first chance to vote on the proposals today when the Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons.
“A change in the law to permit assisted suicide would cross a fundamental legal and ethical Rubicon,” Archbishop Welby wrote in an article for the [italic] Observer [/italic] newspaper. “This respect for the lives of others goes to the heart of both our criminal and human rights laws and ought not to be abandoned.
“While it is not a crime in the UK for someone to take his or her own life, we recognise that it is a tragedy and we, rightly, do all that we can to prevent suicide. The Assisted Dying Bill requires us to turn this stance on its head, not merely legitimising suicide, but actively supporting it. We are asked to sanction doctors participating in individuals taking steps to end their lives. This is a change of monumental proportions both in the law and in the role of doctors; it is little wonder that it is opposed by the medical profession.”
Last weekend, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, joined the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and leaders of other Christian churches and other faiths in a joint letter opposing the move. In it, the religious leaders said that “For many, a change in the law would result, not in greater comfort, but in an added burden to consider ending their lives prematurely, a burden they ought not to be asked to bear.
“We believe that the best response to individuals’ end-of-life concerns lies in ensuring that all receive compassionate, high-quality palliative care and that this is best pursued under current legislation. A law based on this assisted dying bill would put at risk many more vulnerable people than it seeks to help.”
The Revd Canon Peter Holliday, group chief executive of St Giles Hospice in Lichfield, Staffordshire, is the deputy chairman of Hospice UK, a national charity representing 200 independent hospices providing “the highest quality of care to people with terminal or life-limiting conditions.”
He warned this week that the Bill risked undermining the future of hospice care, saying that he Bill “would put thousands of society’s most vulnerable members at risk. It could also put hospices at risk. Some of our local funding streams from the National Health Service (NHS) have been chipped away in recent years and those remaining have become more dependent upon doing things in the way the NHS requires. Rue the day when funding becomes dependent upon hospices’ willingness to facilitate assisted dying.”
The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Revd Dr John Inge, lost his wife Denise to cancer on Easter Day in 2014. In an interview with ITV News, he said that his experience of supporting his wife as she suffered from the terminal condition convinced him to oppose assisted dying.
“The fact that my wife was diagnosed with inoperable cancer brought these issues home to me,” he said. “I began to see, in a personal point of view, the effect assisted-dying legislation would have upon people like my wife. Inevitably, she would feel pressurised in that way.”
There is growing political pressure across much of the western world to legislate for assisted suicide. It is currently lawful – in varying degrees and extents – in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany; and in five states of the USA.