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News > UK >

Welby gives warning ahead of assisted dying Bill

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 @ 12:15

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury has joined forces with 22 other faith leaders to warn that a change in the law on assisted dying would have a "serious detrimental effect" on society.

The statement was issued on Wednesday, two days ahead of the debate in the House of Lords on the Assisted Dying Bill proposed by Lord Falconer. If passed, the Bill would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients in England and Wales who are expected to live for less than six months.

The signatories warn that the Bill will put at further risk the thousands of elderly and vulnerable people who suffer abuse every year. "Being perceived as a burden or as a financial drain is a terrible affliction to bear, leading in many cases to passivity, depression, and self-loathing. The desire to end one's life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is 'rational' does not do justice to the facts."

The leaders, who include the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis; the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi; and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, warn of a society "in which life is to be understood primarily in terms of its usefulness, and individuals evaluated in terms of their utility".

The letter echoes arguments put forward by Archbishop Welby in an article in The Times last Friday, in which he argued that the Bill would allow a "sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally ill person in the country". He drew on his own personal experience of suffering, including the death of his first child, Johanna, who was killed in a car crash in France, aged seven months.

"I have sat by the bedside of one of my own children, having to agree to the treatment ending. Even in the face of such agony, I would make a plea that the deep personal demands of one situation do not blind us to the wider needs of others."

His intervention came hours after the Daily Mail published a piece by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey setting out why he planned to support a change in the law, despite his previous opposition.

"The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering," Lord Carey wrote. "In strictly observing accepted teaching about the sanctity of life, the Church could actually be sanctioning anguish and pain - the very opposite of the Christian message."

On Saturday, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, the lead bishop on health care, called for Lord Falconer's Bill to be withdrawn, and a Royal Commission on assisted dying convened.

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