This coming Friday there will be the second reading of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, in the House of Lords, which while comparatively modest in what it sets out to achieve, i.e. allowing terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor, and contains within its provisions strict checks to counter possible abuses, would if enacted be the first legislation of its kind that would go to legalize euthanasia in the UK.
While some would say this should not be a matter for the church to influence, I would argue it is very much an issue that Christians should speak on and influence where possible. As often happens, Christians including senior churchmen do not speak with one voice on the matter. Two well known Archbishops – Tutu and Carey, have already indicated their support for the Bill, given its intention is to end needless suffering, while other senior clergymen, such as Bishop Nazir-Ali and Archbishop Welby have indicated their opposition, fearing the possible abuses if the Bill were to be enacted.
Having followed these arguments, I want to pitch in with my own observations and say where I stand on this important piece proposed legislation, which should be looked at in the context of the whole sanctity of life debate that also includes issues like abortion and embryo research. Firstly, it is impossible not to want to empathize with those wanting to end their life early, because of the intolerable suffering they would otherwise have to endure. Secondly, given the recent reports of abuse and neglect, which one suspects is a lot more widespread than is reported, of elderly and vulnerable people in care homes etc., the issue of end of life care is one that need attending to. Thirdly, while suffering cannot be alleviated altogether, it can be relieved and palliative and other services should be made available to all who might benefit. Fourthly, the fears that the likes of Nazir-Ali and Welby have expressed about making such laws as being the beginning of a slippery slope whereby people are pressurized to end their lives or even have their lives ended for them without permission, given the experiences in countries like Holland and Belgium, are altogether real ones (see here, here and here).
Job suffered considerably, but he could also say, despite not knowing the full picture: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” Job 1:21. While it is a vexed question, I say allow people to die with dignity and let go, not prolonging life unduly and, as for when our time comes to meet our Maker, it is not for any of us to decide. Life is to be lived to the full and it is possible for us all, whatever the impairments, even though fullness of life is not always something immediately obvious. Having weighed the above considerations together with my own theological understanding, I have to declare my opposition to the Bill. I agree with Focus on the Family: “physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia violate the sanctity of human life, so we oppose both”.