The debate about assisted dying
From Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain
Sir, — The Revd Dr Mark Bratton (Comment, 4 January) gives an admirable summary of the legal issues in the recent application by Noel Conway for the right to an assisted death in the UK, but what are the religious arguments?
For many years, I opposed it on the grounds that life was sacred. As a congregational minister who has witnessed too many people die in agony (despite the care of nurses, and efforts of hospices to control pain), however, I have changed my mind. There is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony.
We are all familiar with the lovely line in Ecclesiastes that “there is a time to be born and a time to die” (3.2), but it is noticeable that it does not say who chooses that time. The assumption has long been that it is God, but why cannot those who are terminally ill and in anguish decide to hand their life back to God if they so wish?
Obviously, we need legal protections and pastoral safeguards to ensure that no one is pressurised into an assisted death, but surely it is equally wrong to force people who are dying, and wish to let go a few weeks early, to carry on suffering against their will. A change in the law to permit it for such cases would be a truly religious repsonse.
Chair, Inter Faith leaders for Dignity in Dying
Ray Park Road, Maidenhead
Berkshire SL6 8QX
From Mr Andrew Todd
Sir, — Immunity from prosecution for the (uncompleted) act of suicide has been considered by the European Court of Human Rights to be a permissible implementation of Article 8 of the European Convention — embodying the right to respect for private life — specifically where a person is “capable of . . . acting in consequence” of a freely reached decision.
Proposals for assisted suicide have sought to introduce a right to wait until such time as one is no longer capable of so acting, and then to implicate others in the taking of one’s life.
In the Pretty case (2002), the European Court held that the UK’s prohibition of assisted suicide is also compatible with Article 8 of the Convention, as a way of protecting vulnerable people’s right to life under Article 2 (which, moreover, was found not to confer any “right to die”).
The Court rejected the claim of Tony Nicklinson’s widow, in 2015, that domestic courts should have re-examined this same compatibility question in her late husband’s case and had failed to do so as “manifestly ill-founded”.
It is not only those who are obviously vulnerable who would be influenced by pressure, inevitably created by a legal option of assisted suicide, to avoid “being a burden”. Individual and societal attitudes towards the relationship between disability and dignity would inevitably be affected.
It would no longer be possible to regard suicide itself as, in general and prima facie, a tragic outcome of mental or emotional anguish which it is imperative, in the public interest and that of compassion, to work to prevent.
22 Pegasus Court, Shelley Road
Worthing BN11 4TH
The Bishop of Coventry’s remarks on the Living in Love and Faith project
From the Revd Stephen Terry
Sir, — The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth (News, 4 January), may believe that “It’s very easy for everybody to think this is just about ‘Can I marry my partner, or if we can’t marry, will you bless us?’” No wonder, because for most people, church and non-church, that is precisely what it is about!
No amount of academic papers (70 and counting — really?), hand-wringing, and convoluted jargon can hide the fact that the Church of England, yet again, is responding to urgent pastoral need by kicking the can of sexuality down the road.
Our nation is having to deal with the chaotic consequences of a government that has adopted a similar view over Brexit. It seems that the Church of England is to suffer the same fate on sexuality.
A year has gone by in this exercise, with — by the review’s own calculation —another year and more to go.
Meanwhile, those who ask the question that the Bishop thinks is too simplistic to bother answering are still left in limbo, while the reviewers, in one of their newly reformulated groups, ask “What’s going on?”
36 Church Mead, Keymer
Hassocks, West Sussex BN6 8BN
From the Revd Jimmy Hamilton-Brown
Sir, — I was delighted to read your report on the sexuality review. At last, there is a glimmer of hope, and a possible different way forward out of the impasse.
The review appears to have come up with a fresh approach. They seem to be suggesting that we should now be asking new questions rather than merely which side is right.
If I read 1 John 1 correctly, our fellowship with each other — arising out of our fellowship with God — is not based on agreement, but on mutual forgiveness. Both sides in this argument over sex and gender can, and often do, behave belligerently. Far better to accept that both sides sometimes get things wrong, ask for forgiveness, and then learn to live together with respect and Christian love.
Christians down the ages, particularly Anglicans, have learned to accept differences in many other matters, such as the episcopate and the eucharist; so why not this one? That would be a far better solution than ending up with two versions of what it means to be Anglican, as seems to be happening, for instance, with the Episcopal Church in the United States.
April Cottage, West Street
Dorset DT11 0NT
‘Hostile environment’ conscripts clergy
From the Revd James Mercer
Sir, — I have recently found myself reluctantly complicit in the Kafka-esque Home Office “hostile environment” precondition concerning the granting of marriage visas to non-EEA nationals.
A couple, who are Ghanaian nationals and long-established members of my congregation, desire to be married. They have children born in the UK who possess UK/EU passports.
Under the Immigration Act of 2015, non-EEA nationals are required to gain Home Office approval, via the local register office, to be married in the Church of England. The woman concerned has leave to remain; her partner does not. He has appealed against Home Office refusal to grant him permission to remain to support his family — an incredibly stressful process in and of itself, especially when the couple are denied any access to public funds.
To date, no communication has been received from the Home Office concerning the appeal. Immediately after the submission of the appeal documentation, however, the family suffered an extremely traumatic experience. Privately contracted Home Office immigration enforcement officers forcibly entered the family home during the evening meal time. The man was immediately and aggressively manhandled and handcuffed to a radiator in the living room, in front of his terrified children and partner.
The officers, with abusive language, demanded paperwork confirming the couple’s identity. When this was provided, the man was released from the handcuffs, and the officers left, without comment. The front door was damaged, and the family were left in a state of severe shock.
The couple are understandably reluctant to draw Home Office attention to themselves again to seek a licence to marry, lest it provoke another aggressive visitation, or worse, summary deportation, which would make any positive appeal outcome effectively nul and void, and risk splitting the family irrevocably.
Their intention to marry is genuine and motivated by their desire to regularise their relationship and family responsibilities through Christian marriage; but, as I cannot not legally conduct their wedding without Home Office consent, I find myself an unwitting agent of the Government’s “hostile environment” — a situation I bitterly resent.
The Rectory, St George’s Close
Swanage BH19 3HZ
System weighted against male victims
From Mr Tim Tierney
Sir, — In her review of Helen Thorne’s book Walking With Domestic Abuse Sufferers (Books, 21/28 December 2018), the Revd Anna Macham comments: “I don’t think that this interpretation (of Ephesians 5.22) would get a very favourable response from my (many) parishioners who have been subjected to domestic abuse in the past or present.” I appreciate her reservation, but I see that Helen Thorne’s book offers recognition for a larger proportion of victims than is typical.
Publications such as the Anglican Responding Well to Domestic Abuse contain statements such as “Do not be taken in by his ‘conversion’ experience”; “I can keep my purse and car keys . . .”; and “. . . safety in her own residence”. Before seeking help, an abused man weighs the balance of these unnecessarily gendered statements.
Given a lack of or even a complete absence of case studies depicting male victims, he concludes that men are seen as the perpetrators of domestic abuse, and women as their victims; so he is left with insufficient hope of help. The title of a new academic article by Dr Elizabeth Bates, a recognised expert in this field, says it all: “‘No one would ever believe me’: An exploration of the impact of intimate partner violence victimization on men”.
I recently suggested 15 tiny amendments to Responding Well to Domestic Abuse to make it more gender-balanced. In last month’s response, a member of the National Safeguarding Team did not address any of them. Yet, without some minor and seemingly insignificant changes, the male victim becomes clear that it is not worth the intensely emotional risk of reporting his wife or partner’s abusive behaviour through the Church.
While discussing domestic abuse during her 2018 Keswick Convention lecture, Dr Elaine Storkey stated: “men have nowhere to go.” She is correct; but this can begin to change, and with no less recognition of female victims.
One needs to consider the overall framework under which male victims’ reports are processed. Last June, Baroness Newlove, the Victims Commissioner, stated in her response to the Domestic Abuse Bill consultation: “I have purposefully attempted to keep my submission gender neutral. . . To ensure all victims are recognised and supported this sentiment needs to be stressed in any training or education delivered regarding domestic abuse and that domestic abuse is a crime perpetrated from either gender. However, the current policy framework this consultation and Bill sit within places all victims of domestic abuse as a victim of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) — even when the victims are male.”
The Home Office and Department of Justice policy of treating male victims in this manner means that men face obstacles that include being ridiculed, told they are drunk, or even arrested by police, which hugely magnifies their despair. It seems unbelievable, but I can assure you that it does happen. I feel convinced that the Church, in using unnecessarily gendered statements, is not responding sufficiently well towards male victims.
Helen Thorne’s book demonstrates an encouraging desire to support women and girls and those victims who are numbered among our sons, our siblings, our fathers, other relatives, members of the Church, and friends. I commend it as more appropriate Christian reading-material for male victims and those who wish to help them.
Dandyhow, Station Road
Cumbria CA8 1EX
Brexit and the workers: two perspectives
From the Revd Dr John Cameron
Sir, — Over the past half-century, most of the world’s population escaped the poverty trap. The proportion living in extreme poverty dropped from 60 per cent in 1970 to 45 per cent in 1980 to ten per cent by 2015 and is now in single figures.
It’s the great story of our times, but it wasn’t done by Big Aid. It was China’s liberalising reformer Deng Xiaoping and the Silicon Valley buccaneers offshoring production. Globalisation has become a dirty word, but it “made poverty history”.
The income gap between all the world’s citizens narrowed, but income inequality increased in the likes of Britain. Our workers had protection from foreign competition, but in free-trading, post-Brexit UK, they’ll be totally exposed to Asia.
10 Howard Place
St Andrews KY16 9HL
From Professor Richard Bauckham
Sir, — Dr Christopher Currie (Letters, 4 January) is misinformed about me. I was born in England and taught in Manchester before moving to St Andrews in Scotland. I moved to Cambridge when I retired from university employment. Only in the literal sense do I “sit in a chair in Cambridge”.
But what is much more important is this: I have no doubt at all that UK universities will continue to recruit staff from EU countries after Brexit, just as they do now from the United States, New Zealand, Japan, Chile, and any number of other countries around the world. The academic world is international, regardless of the EU.
11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB2 9LW
Parent’s reflection on trans issues
Sir, — Your correspondents on welcoming trans people have made some fair points (Letters, 21/28 December). The liturgy related to baptism might not be the best choice of rite; and the families of trans people may, indeed, need pastoral support
Such support, though, should help even the most confused family member to understand the courage involved when trans people share their truest, most personal identity, thus risking their best, most authentic life.
Gender dysphoria almost robbed us of our child. Everything that made her the person she is began to fade away, her personality and joy ebbing away like a tide. At best — hunched in a baggy hoodie, barely eating — she was with us only in the crudest physical sense. At worst, despair meant more cuts on her arms, and my sleeping across the doorway of her room to save her from her terror of what she might do if she got out.
I am well aware that this sounds like melodrama. Actually, it was our grinding daily normality.
But, once given hormone treatment, our child came back to life. It was as dramatic as that. Once again, she is the creative, witty, idiosyncratic, loving child we have always known.
In this context, perhaps baptism makes more sense. Her transition was a turning-point, and most certainly a cause for celebration. She is now more fully herself than she has ever been.
Before I lived with a trans child, I didn’t know any trans people well. God forgive me, I was quite happy to spout my theories about the issue.
To those who doubt whether being trans is “real”, I assure you that it is part of the wide, extraordinary range of God’s creation. Biological sex and gender are more complex and wonderful than most of us think; and, far from being members of a powerful political lobby, we are simply friends and family members who want our children to thrive.
To those who theorise that being trans is a political or ideological stance, or whatever: be honest and please ask on what your theory is based. Show some humility, and talk to some people who are directly affected.
To those who want to steer a middle course: you can’t. It is not possible to welcome trans people while simultaneously rejecting them. You have to choose one or the other. Jesus showed special tenderness towards outcasts, misfits, and those on the fringes; and he calls on his Church to value and cherish them.
To those who, after much study and reflection, would refuse to welcome trans children like mine by their true names and pronouns; to those who would rather my child had stayed locked in suffering as a boy rather than live fully and joyfully as a woman, I say, shame on you.
And to those who welcome trans people into their churches — perhaps making mistakes and asking many questions — thank you. When you see the fruits of your love, you will know you were doing the right thing.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
Getting the ‘point’ of the Gospel birth narratives
From the Revd Adrian Alker
Sir, — In her column (Comment, 21/28 December), Canon Angela Tilby accuses me of “missing the point” of the birth narratives by encouraging a biblical critical approach that seeks to explain some of the theology of the Matthaean and Lukan stories. Instead, Canon Tilby argues, the narratives are “windows on to the mystery unfolded in the Creed”, which seems to me to beg the question and offer only more doctrinal obfuscation.
As a parish priest for nearly 40 years, I need no reminding of the enchantment of Christmas liturgies, of the beauty of story to captivate and offer glimpses of the “divine”. This does not prevent our being honest and grown-up about the nature of the birth narratives, and, as the Dean of Southwark pleaded, giving space to theology.
What I find “deeply strange” are not the birth narratives, but the reluctance of clergy and others to be honest about their nature as stories with deep meaning but not, in the main, to be taken as literal fact. This is not “debunking”, but treating the congregation as intelligent searchers of meaning for themselves and their world.
Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain
Sheffield S8 7UA
Put it in the booklet!
From Mr Don Manley
Sir, — Like many, I was handed a copy of #Follow The Star after a Christmas service. It was nicely produced and well-written, but I was surprised to see “Read such-and-such from the Bible.”
If this booklet was aimed at occasional churchgoers as an evangelistic exercise, it has surely faltered, given that many occasional churchgoers do not have a Bible to hand, or maybe not at all. If the exercise is repeated, it would be better to print passages in full or put little quotations within the notes.
An opportunity missed, I’d say.
26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW
Get a move on
From Mr Philip Johanson
Sir, — The appointment of the Bishop of Southampton as the next Dean of York was announced on 26 November. The Winchester diocesan synod or Bishop’s Council and the Dioceses Commission must have worked at breakneck speed for an advertisement to appear in the Church Times on 21 December. Names have to be submitted by 4 January with interviews in the same month, all before the see is vacant on 1 February. It is a pity that parishes are not allowed to work at the same speed when a vacancy is announced.
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth, Dorset BH6 3PN