Catholic, Anglican and Jewish leaders have united to express their “profound disquiet” at a Bill to legalise assisted suicide.
They said the Assisted Dying Bill of crossbench peer Baroness Meacher would put vulnerable people at greater risk of abuse.
The intervention of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; Anglican leader Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis came shortly before the Second Reading debate of the Bill in the House of Lords.
“We are conscious of the risks and dangers entailed in the provisions of the Bill and the ‘real-life’ practical inadequacies of the proposed safeguards,” they said.
“By the faiths we profess, we hold every human life to be a precious gift of the Creator, to be upheld and protected.
“All people of faith, and those of none, can share our concern that the common good is not served by policies or actions that would place very many vulnerable people in more vulnerable positions.”
They continued: “We appeal to people of whatever faith or belief to join us through our common bond of humanity in caring for the most vulnerable people within our society.
“In contrast to the proposals in this Bill, we continue to call for measures to make high-quality palliative care available to all at the end of their lives.
“We believe that the aim of a compassionate society should be assisted living rather than an acceptance of assisted suicide.”
The Bill will amend the Suicide Act 1961 to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients so they can end their lives.
Baroness Meacher, chair of Dignity in Dying, the group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, has described the proposals as modest.
But opponents of the Bill say the proposed safeguards are vague and symbolic and will prove unworkable and indefensible in law, opening the door quickly to the liberalisation of the law possibly to full euthanasia.
Among them are nearly 1,700 doctors who earlier this week wrote an open letter to Sajid Javid to warn him that the Bill would effectively turn doctors from care-givers into life-takers.
“The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised,” they said in their letter.
“It is impossible for any government to draft assisted suicide laws which include legal protection from future extension and expansion of those laws.”
They continued: “Any change would threaten society’s ability to safeguard vulnerable patients from abuse, it would undermine the trust the public places in physicians and it would send a clear message to our frail, elderly and disabled patients about the value that society places on them as people.
“Far from one person’s decision affecting no-one else, it affects us all. Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it is suggested to them.
“The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable.”
They added: “We would not take patients’ lives – even if they asked us to – but for the sake of us all, and for future generations, we ask that the law remains unchanged.”
The signatories include Prof David Galloway, former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; Prof Rob George, professor of palliative medicine at King’s College, London, and Prof Johann de Bono, a professor in experimental cancer medicine at the Institute of Cancer Research.
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