Assisted suicide is back on the legislative agenda with Baroness Meacher’s private member’s bill to legalise assisted dying in England and Wales for terminally ill adults in their final six months of life. Two independent doctors and a High Court judge would have to assess the request. A second reading is expected in the autumn.
When a similar measure came before parliament in 2015, bishops were at the forefront of opposition. This time, a pressure group of religious leaders has been formed to support the move.Its chairman is Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who declares that “We support a change in the law on assisted dying because of our faith, not in spite of it.” Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has joined the group, saying. “Compassion, a central tenet of the Christian faith, should not be a crime.”
Catholic bishops are absent from this coalition and they are right. The proposals are at odds with the ethos of Christianity, which is to uphold the value of human life, at its end as at its beginning. What this bill would do, if enacted, is present vulnerable people with an intolerable choice. Those who feel they are a burden will opt to end their lives so as to spare their families and society of the expense and trouble of their care. Many people with disabilities or conditions such as dementia would, if presented with this terrible choice, opt for death for altruistic reasons. As Cardinal Hume once put it, “the right to die can become the duty to die”. No human being should be put in this position.
Lord Carey appears to equate compassion with the choice to be killed. The genuinely pro-choice option is, rather, the greater provision of palliative care, which enables people to manage painful conditions, and which is only patchily provided around the country – and greater government support for hospices, where people are supported at the end of their lives, often in their own homes This is compassion, not the option of death. Christianity has always opposed suicide, and Christians such as Lord Carey are wrong to argue for it. We should be clear, however, that supporting positive end of life care rather than offering vulnerable people the option to end their lives is an approach that people of goodwill of every background can support. This is not just a Catholic position; it is the humane one.
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