A debate over legalizing assisted suicide for the terminally ill in the U.K. has unfurled in the Anglican Communion after a number of former Anglican archbishops backed a proposed bill, while the Church of England confirmed its opposition.
“Some people opine that with good palliative care there is no need for assisted dying, no need for people to request to be legally given a lethal dose of medication,” Anglican archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace laureate, wrote for The Observer.
The assisted dying bill is set to be debated in the House of Lords on July 18th, and the Church has called for a public inquiry into the issue.
The bill would make it legal for adults in England and Wales with less than six months to live to be granted assistance in ending their own life.
The process would require two doctors to confirm that the patient seeking to terminate his/her life had reached the decision independently.
The briefing listed several reasons, including the ethical burden it places on doctors, for why the Church opposes the bill.
“Most doctors do not want to play a role in assisted suicide as the BMA and the Royal Colleges have made clear. If the Assisted Dying bill were to become law it would inevitably lead to ‘doctor – shopping’, a problem already encountered in jurisdictions that permit assisted suicide,” the Church wrote.
Anglican leaders have shown various viewpoints on the issue – while former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has said that he would support a bill that would allow assisted suicide in some cases, Justin Welby, the current Archbishop, has called the legislation “mistaken and dangerous.”
“The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering,” Carey wrote in an article for The Daily Mail earlier in July.
“Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope,” he argued.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has some comments on Lord Carey’s support for this bill:
I yield to no one in my respect for Lord Carey and for the good things he has said and done, but I am simply amazed at his arguments (or lack of them) in support of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill for the terminally ill. Lord Carey says that he has changed his mind after encountering the cases of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, who had severe paralysis but were not terminally ill. In what way do these cases support a Bill specifically for those with a life expectancy of six months or less?
The majority of those who are terminally ill want what Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, calls “assisted living” rather than “assisted dying”. This is what the Christian-inspired hospice movement seeks to do, enabling those nearing the end of their lives to prepare for a peaceful and good death. The fact that good hospice care is based on a postcode lottery is what should shame us, rather than not having our own answer to Dignitas in Switzerland.
Instead of concocting expensive ways of getting rid of those at their most vulnerable, I strongly believe we should be making sure that good hospice care is evenly available across the length and breadth of the country.
Rightly, Lord Carey has pointed out that where assisted dying (by any name) has been permitted, it has led to a widening of the provision beyond the terminally ill to those who are disabled, depressed or just tired of life. He says that it would be “outrageous” if assisted dying were to be extended to such categories in this country. But the cases on which he relies show precisely how the arguments will not remain for the terminally ill alone, but will be extended to others.
For these and other reasons, nearly the whole of the medical profession, experts in palliative care and disability groups are united in their opposition to this Bill.
It was a surprise to me to see Lord Carey’s support for this bill, as closely enmeshed in the culture of death as it is. It starts off as misplaced compassion for those with deep suffering. But it does not stop there.
Why is it that society so keen to kill the least of us, whether at the start or the end of life? More importantly, how can Christians be in favour of this, particularly in this age when good palliative care is possible and could be made more available? Is it just that, in this utilitarian age, those who are no longer useful to society should be culled?
This is not love, nor is there any dignity in what is being proposed.