This website is best viewed with CSS and JavaScript enabled.

Lambeth Conference takes stand against euthanasia

Posted on: August 7, 1998 1:59 PM
Related Categories: euthanasia, Lambeth Conference 1998

by Margaret Rodgers 
Lambeth Conference Communications

The Lambeth Conference has taken a strong stand against euthanasia, arguing that it should not be "permitted in civil legislation."

The resolution affirmed the basic theological & ethical principle that "life is God-given and has intrinsic sanctity, significance and worth." It also declared that euthanasia, precisely defined, is "neither compatible with the Christian faith nor should it be permitted in civil legislation."

The report of the Lambeth sub-section that considered euthanasia stressed that human beings, though flawed by sin, have the capacity to make free and responsible moral choices; that human meaning and purpose is found in relationship with God; and that this life is not the sum total of human existence, since "we find our ultimate fulfilment in eternity with God through Christ."

Defining the term

The bishops were careful to outline what euthanasia was not, with the intention of clarifying some of the confusion in thinking on the issue. They distinguished between euthanasia as an intentional act to cause a death, and actions of withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment of someone in a permanent vegetative state (PVS). They said these latter actions may all be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity.

"Euthanasia simply means 'a good death,' and everyone wants a good death," said the Archbishop Peter Hollingworth of Brisbane (Australia), chair of the subsection that prepared the report. His church province includes the Northern Territory where euthanasia laws were introduced and then overturned.

Archbishop Hollingworth said that there was a good deal of confusion in people's minds about what euthanasia actually means. He and his group offered the Lambeth Conference a carefully drafted definition.

"Precisely defined, euthanasia means an act by which one person intentionally causes or assists in causing the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill in order to end the other's pain and suffering," Archbishop Hollingworth said.

He emphasised in his speech that they were talking only of withdrawal of treatment that was keeping someone in a condition of PVS (Permanent Vegitative State) alive. The bishops did not mean withdrawal of treatment from a patient in a comatose state.

Archbishop Moses Tay of Singapore, a medical doctor, argued that administering nutrients to a PVS patient was medically and culturally appropriate in his region and urged the Conference to reject the motion.

"Those who advocate euthanasia show little awareness of the Christian experience that people may be redeemed and transfigured through their suffering," Archbishop Hollingworth said. He told reporters a key part of his sub-group's work was drawing a distinction between allowing a terminally ill patient to die and actively causing that death.

However, he said, the use of increased dosages of analgesics which may indirectly hasten the death of a terminally ill patient would not fall under the definition of euthanasia. The use of "gradual increases of dosages" (of analgesics) was now a "widespread and well-accepted practice," Archbishop Hollingworth said.