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Welsh governing body: assisted dying

02 May 2014


Campaigner: the Revd Professor Paul Badham speaks on assisted dying

Campaigner: the Revd Professor Paul Badham speaks on assisted dying

THE Governing Body debated a motion on "assisted dying" which did not seek to endorse a particular position, but simply "took note of the debate on assisted dying", and commended the issue "to further prayer, study, and consideration by members of the Church in Wales".

The GB began the item by listening to two opposing presentations in support of papers that had been circulated before the meeting.

The Revd Professor Paul Badham, patron of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, told GB members that "a Christian case for supporting assisted dying is based on Jesus's teaching that the whole of religious law and prophetic teaching can be summarised as requiring us to love God, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

"Jesus's golden rule was that we should always treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. Applying this to assisted dying, the argument is [that] when people's sufferings are so great that they make repeated requests to die, it seems a denial of that loving compassion which is supposed to be a hallmark of Christianity to refuse their request. If we truly love our neighbour as ourselves, how can we deny them the death we would wish for ourselves?"

He said that the sixth commandment was not relevant: "The reason murder is condemned is that it is an act which deprives another person of all that life offers; but when a dying person is already being deprived of life by terminal illness, and simply wants help to hasten that process, the situation seems very different."

A counter-argument was put by the director of the Living and Dying Well foundation, Robert Preston: "In a civilised society, we don't license an act by law simply because we can empathise with it in exceptional circumstances. All of us in this room are capable of breaking the criminal law . . .

"If somebody broke into my house at night, and I got up and found them, I might well inflict injury on them to protect my family; if I was penniless, and my family were starving, I might well be tempted to steal in order to get food for them; if I was rushing a desperately sick child to hospital, I doubt I would have much time for the Highway Code.

"These are all situations where we might easily empathise, and, other things being equal, we would not want anyone who broke the law under those circumstances to face prosecution. But nobody would seriously suggest that we should license assault, or theft, or dangerous driving, in prescribed circumstances ahead of the act."

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, moved the motion. Echoing the theme of the Archbishop's presidential address, he said that Jesus "indicates very clearly that life is precious - so precious, to use one of his metaphors, that even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Yet, in the same passage, the same chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, he tells us not to fear those who can harm the body, but to fear those who can harm the soul.

"This same God made visible in the Lord Jesus came to bring life, and to bring life in all its fullness; and yet it is also the same God made visible in the Lord Jesus who comes to heal, and . . . he comes to release people from their burdens and their sufferings. So you can pick and choose."

Susan Last (St Asaph), seconding the motion, described it as a "very sensitive and emotive subject", and asked: "If we don't address this subject by open discussion, what resources can we deploy to cope with this new and emerging situation?"

The Revd Philip Bettinson (St Asaph) said that there was a need "to explore end-of-life issues", but "I don't think [Lord Falconer's] Bill is the way forward. It doesn't seem to have enough safeguards. It doesn't seem to be protecting those people who are the most vulnerable of us. . . It will be those people who find living to be burdensome on others who could find themselves falling foul of this Bill."

In his reply to the debate, Bishop Davies said that he had read articles in newspapers that asked: "'Who are these bishops, who are these clergy, who are these churchpeople who sit back and pontificate upon the lives of other people?'

"Those of us who have been parish priests, and sat by the bedsides of some of the people that this discussion is talking about . . . know just how important this discussion is; so the Church has got every right to be having a conversation about this, and to be studying it, and . . . to be saying something about it."

The motion was clearly carried. The votes in favour were not counted; there were no votes against, and one abstention:

That the Governing Body take note of the debate on assisted dying, and commend the issues to further prayer, study, and consideration by members of the Church in Wales.

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