THE General Synod will debate a private member’s motion that opposes changes to the law on assisted dying, and calls on the Government to provide, instead, better funding for palliative care.
The motion has been tabled by Dr Simon Eyre (Chichester), a retired GP, and will be debated on 10 July during the Synod’s meeting in York.
In a background note, the Synod’s Secretary General, William Nye, writes that the C of E “has been adamant in its rejection of a change in the current law in parliament”.
My Nye lists the C of E’s reasons for opposing assisted dying. The “opposition is not based solely on religious conviction but is based on a commitment to the Common Good which is, in principle, accessible to all people of any religious belief or none”, he writes.
Assisted suicide is also, he writes, “a communal not merely a personal decision”, and a change in the law “would undermine the intrinsic value of every human life.”
The Suicide Act 1961 prohibits assisted suicide, although directions from the Crown Prosecution Service published in 2010 require that any prosecution be in the “public interest”. A finding that the victim “had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide”, or that “the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion”, are listed as factors tending against prosecution.
Several attempts have been made to amend the law. Last year, Baroness Meacher introduced a Bill to the House of Lords that would, if it became law, have allowed those who were terminally ill to be provided assistance to end their life, if the High Court was satisfied that the person was making a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his or her own life” (News, 22 October 2021). The Bill did not pass the Second Reading in the House of Lords before Parliament was prorogued in April this year.
In background notes, Dr Eyre outlines issues with the current funding of palliative care, and concludes that “without the necessary Government funding the current Independent Hospice movement risks collapse.”
Dr Eyre suggests that deficiencies in palliative care “can lead to increased pressure from those seeking relaxation of the legislation on assisted suicide”. Such a relaxation should be opposed, he says, for several reasons: the “Christian understanding of the sanctity of life”; it would leave those who lack mental capacity vulnerable to coercion or decisions’ being made on their behalf; and a change to the law would put more practical and ethical pressures on medical professionals.
In May, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey wrote to the members of the Parliament of New South Wales, Australia, in support of a law on assisted dying. He was reported as saying that it would be “cruel, monstrous, unethical, and unchristian” to allow care homes to make a life-or-death decision on behalf of a “mature rational person in full control of his or her faculties” (News, 20 May).