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Clerics support Assisted Dying Bill

31 May 2013

by a staff reporter


A GROUP of Christian and Jewish clerics, including Canon Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, supported Lord Falconer's new Assisted Dying Bill in a debate organised by the pressure group Dignity in Dying, on Monday of last week.

Interfaith Leaders for Dignity in Dying is co-ordinated by Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who said: "There's nothing holy about agony. I believe in sanctity of life, but not in sanctity of suffering. The right to live one's life to the very end does not imply the religious obligation to do so if that end is a travesty of that person's life and everything that has gone before."

Canon Harper said this week that the death of her uncle, who lived in Switzerland, had influenced her view. After a terminal diagnosis, he was able to choose when and where to end his own life. "I have always been notionally supportive of a person's right to end their life in intolerable circumstances, but my uncle's death tested my feelings and theory.

"I know that only a very small number of people will actually choose this course, but the experience in Switzerland seems to indicate that knowing that it is a possibility is also a great comfort to those who, in the end, choose not to take this option."

The number of people who die in this way, she said, "is very small: the life expectancy in Switzerland is 2.5 years higher than here, suggesting that they are not bumping off their elderly early, and their health care is better. The fear surrounding this is unfounded."

In an article this week, Canon Harper, who has Swiss roots, wrote of her experiences with bereaved families. "Mostly, they speak of care and kindness, of effective pain-relief, and a gentle slipping away. But it's not that rare to hear about difficult final days that have a nightmarish quality about them.

"It might be disturbingly vivid, but people do say to me 'You would never let your dog suffer like that.' I cannot believe in a God who demands that of us."

In a YouGov poll, commissioned for the debate, 62 per cent of the respondents who said that they had a faith supported the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill adults.

The chief executive of Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton, said: "Polling consistently finds that the majority of people with faith support a change in the law to allow the choice of assisted dying, and the voices of these people have been drowned out thus far by a vocal minority who oppose the choice."

Bishops in the House of Lords have opposed any change in the law to allow assisted dying.

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