THE latest attempt to change the law on assisted dying, which is to be debated by MPs in a Second Reading in September, has faced opposition from critics from the Church of England and elsewhere.
The Private Member’s Bill, if passed, would enable terminally ill adults who are “voluntary, clear, settled, and informed” to end their life with medically supervised assistance.
In a blog post, “Caring for the vulnerable in a compassionate society”, published on the Church of England website on Wednesday, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church’s national adviser on medical ethics, said that the Assisted Dying Bill “has the potential to damage both the well-being of individuals and the nature and shape of our society”.
“Every person’s life is of immeasurable value and ought to be affirmed, respected and cherished by society . . . even when some people no longer view their own lives as being of any further value. . . To undermine this in any way would be a grave error, and risk eroding carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for a society that respects and cares for all.”
Dr McCarthy referred to the elderly and vulnerable patients who suffer abuse at the hands of carers or families, saying that such individuals would be at greater risk. “The provisions of the Assisted Dying Bill would only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support. For them, ‘choice’ would represent a further, heavy burden to be borne.
“We must choose what sort of society we wish to become: one in which people are valued primarily for their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, said in a podcast on the official Church of England website last week that any change in the current law would be “detrimental”; he urged listeners to express their concerns about the Bill by contacting their MP.
“This Bill would cause a fundamental shift in attitude to suicide in our society. It would create a climate in which things we regard as completely unacceptable to gradually become acceptable.
“We’re very concerned about the most vulnerable people, including the elderly and those who feel under pressure from family and friends to bring their life to an end because they feel they’re being a burden.
“We’re keen to show that changing the law is not everybody’s viewpoint.”
The Bill was presented to Parliament by its sponsor Rob Marris, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, on 24 June. It is based on the draft regulations drawn up by Lord Falconer, whose Assisted Dying Bill ran out of time in the previous Parliament (News, 23 January).
Welcome for verdict. The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which takes on legal cases “to protect the freedom of Christians”, said it was “delighted” with a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled against the family of the late Tony Nicklinson in a case about the legalisation of assisted suicide. Mr Nicklinson died three years ago from locked-in syndrome. A former builder, Paul Lamb, who has been paralysed since 1990, was also a complainant in the case.
A spokeswoman for the CLC, Andrea Minichiello Williams, said: “Instead of campaigning for the right to commit suicide, it is our hope that following this judgment, more people will start to campaign for better resources to help people who are unwell, to live with dignity in their final stages of life, with care not killing.
“Sadly, our hospice services are woefully underfunded and resourced, and it would be good to have a national debate on how we can care compassionately for those whose lives are near the end, or who feel like giving up on life.”