Thinking Anglicans

Religious leaders call for end to 'legal euthanasia'

Updated Tuesday morning

The following letter has been published in the Telegraph newspaper:

Sir

Three years ago a move to legalise physician assisted suicide, by way of a Private Members Bill, was defeated in the House of Lords. The debate on the Bill was heated and impassioned. It was also, by and large, respectful and serious.

Shortly before the Bill was debated in Parliament, the Royal College of Physicians asked its member doctors if they thought the law needed changing – and over 70% of those responding said the law against assisted suicide should stay the same. The Royal College of General Practitioners also urged that the law should stay the same.

Now, by way of an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, the legality of assisting people to end their own lives is once again to be debated. The proposed amendment seeks to protect from prosecution those who help friends or relatives to go abroad to commit suicide in one of the few countries where the practice is legal.

It would surely put vulnerable people at serious risk, especially sick people who are anxious about the burden their illness may be placing on others. Moreover, our hospice movement, an almost unique gift of this country to wider humankind, is the profound and tangible sign of another and better way to cope with the challenges faced by those who are terminally ill, by their loved ones and by those who care for them.

This amendment would mark a shift in British law towards legalising euthanasia. We do not believe that such a fundamental change in the law should be sought by way of an amendment to an already complex Bill. It should be rejected.

The Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster

Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

And that’s not all, Martin Beckford of the Telegraph reports: Senior legal figures join in opposition to ‘euthanasia law’ proposals.

Tuesday update

The Church of England has published Protecting Life – opposing Assisted Suicide.

The Church of England is opposed to any change in the law, or medical practice, to make assisted suicide permissible or acceptable.

Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication; meeting it by assisted suicide is merely removing it in the crudest way possible.

In its March 2009 paper Assisted Dying/Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia, the Church acknowledges the complexity of the issues: the compassion that motivates those who seek change equally motivates the Church’s opposition to change…

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Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

The distinguished signatories to this letter, including the ABC, mention the tremendous work of the Hospice movement in the UK as being one of the most important ways of dealing with terminal illness. Whatever one’s personal thoughts about the availability of any ‘assisted suicide’ provision at law, one cannot discount the obvious advantages of the palliative care programme offered by the Hospice Movement. The real question here is: Is there sufficient availability of such provision for all who might need it? And does the government, in debating this amendment to the Bill, intend to offer the increase of financial support… Read more »

Rev L Roberts
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Rev L Roberts

It is the same old “We know best” approach.

If I needed to end my own life or support a loved one, I certainly should not let the quibbles of Williams and Nicholls detain me very long at all.

I do have more respect for Sacks, but at the end of the day, we must all decide for ouselves, if ever in the difficult position of contemplating suicide assisted or otherwise.

Fr Ron’s point about funding is well made.

I see the Free Church voice is not represented here….

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

“The real question here is: Is there sufficient availability of such provision for all who might need it? And does the government, in debating this amendment to the Bill, intend to offer the increase of financial support that would be necessary to support the palliative initiative?”

The Hospice movement is indeed an invaluable gift. I have friends who are Hospice volunteers, and know many people whom Hospice has touched with blessing.

In the US, Hospice is a voluntary service, available in many places, but by no means everywhere.

What a blessed gift. Thank you.

Elizabeth Young
Guest
Elizabeth Young

My parents lived in an Oregon (USA) retirement center. Oregon voted twice for the assisted suicide law. This center was big enough to be its own precinct. This center voted overwhelmingly “yes” in both cases. Many people seem to want to have some control. It may be fear of pain or losing control of their life, but they want that reassurance that they have the choice. In Oregon, many of the people who request the drugs, never use them. Oregon, also has a strong Hospice presence. Both of my parents were under Hospice care when they died.

toby forward
Guest

I hope we all applaud the hospice movement and the work it does. But it does point up a philosophical problem with this letter. It is generally accepted that ‘palliative care’ often involves increasing the amount of pain relief, as slowly as possible, and leaving as much consciousness as possible, and maintaining quality of life, up to the point where the drugs relieving the pain become the cause of death. Like it or not, this is a form of euthanasia. All this letter does is reveal the usual muddled thinking, dishonesty and fudge that we have come to expect from… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“Like it or not, this is a form of euthanasia.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case. In the situation you describe, relieving pain is the goal, not killing the patient.

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Once again, the Church is wrong, and the inadequacies of the hospice movement, unable to control pain, are all too obvious. I would not go near one of those sanctimonious , hypocritical institutions.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“It is the same old “We know best” approach.” But what is it that “we know best”? We “know best”, from our perspective, that life is a gift from God, that, given that gift ourselves by God, we do not have the right to take it away. We “know best” that human life is valuable because of that, that humans are all made in the image and likeness of God, are all equally valuable in His sight. We “know best” that we are called to relieve suffering, and have responsibility to do so. Why is it that we choose an… Read more »

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest

People now fear more than death the possibility of spending months or years in a nightmare situation produced by interventive medicine. The brouhaha about Terry Schiavo shows how far life-defenders will go to shore up their dogmas at the expense of basic decency.

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

Btw ‘Euthanasia’ literally means ‘to die well’. Let us never forget there are different ways of dying well, in varying situations and for different individuals’ values, feelings, aspirations and needs, which may also change over time.

Of course we need the hospice ideal and actual hospices, but we also need clinics in UK like those in Europe. Maybe ‘hospice’ could become wider concept, as times and needs change and ethical ideals develop ?

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

‘Church opposition to euthanasia’ ? Opinion is divided as usual. People will as I said above, decide for themselves / ourselves. Thank you very much.

The Church is not its ministers — not even high ranking ones — it is all of us. Most of us unknown and private.

Btw We won’t be dictated to by the ‘We know best’ element with the medical profession either!

We will have our own death …

JCF
Guest
JCF

“Religious leaders call for end to ‘legal euthanasia'”

Doesn’t this headline really say it all?

Putting an end to to “legal euthanasia”—as with safe&legal abortion—will only drive it underground to the illegal side, won’t it?

It’s one thing for people of faith to try to PERSUADE others of their beliefs…

…but getting the state involved (w/ making currently-desired practices illegal) works out for precisely NO ONE.

Lord have mercy!

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford “We can also ask, do we Christians really “know best” that what believe has to apply to all? Do we have the right to say to nonChristians that they may not practice euthanasia because we think it’s wrong?” Can this sentiment please extend to other Christians too? I can see why the church as a whole takes the stance it does, but actually, it has no right to interfere in my life. It’s not as simple as saying that we relieve suffering, therefore the dying should not be desperate. Often, it’s our modern medicine that’s responsible for them still… Read more »

David Keen
Guest

The British Medical Association conference has voted this morning against a motion which calls for doctors who help people to die to be immune from prosecution, and for assisted dying to be an option for NHS patients. Their official position is opposition to euthanasia.

BillyD
Guest

“If and when I ever feel that I really do not want to continue to live, I will take full responsibility for my death before God.” Fine. Why the need for clinics, then? It’s not as if suicide were such a delicate operation that it needs the expertise of professionals: plenty of people have figured out how to kill themselves throughout history without their doctor’s help; in these days of the instant communication the information necessary for a painless end is more available than ever before. To me, the answer seems to be in part precisely because people do not… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD I’m pretty sure that if we absolutely wanted to we would be able to ensure that people who do not wish to die are not pressurised into it. Slippery slope arguments are never a good argument against the substance of the main topic – see the lgbt debate. They merely serve to close the conversation down and always always work against change. What I would like to see is fewer people feeling pressurised into committing suicide while they’re still physically capable of doing so, but before they’re ready to die, simply because it is illegal for anyone to help… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“I’m pretty sure that if we absolutely wanted to we would be able to ensure that people who do not wish to die are not pressurised into it”

But there’s evidence that this is happening already. Did you read the material at the link I provided? How would you prevent it? By severing the ties between the patient and their family? Good luck with that.

You still have not made a case for giving medical personnel the responsibility for being our agents in suicide.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD
Yes, there is evidence that it is already happening. So clearly, the current system isn’t preventing it.
Changing the system, making it more transparent, more subject to rigorous checks and assessments can possibly help to alleviate this problem.

I’m not wanting to make medical personnel responsible for being our agents in suicide. That makes it sound as though I wanted to compell them to do something against their conscience and something that absolves us from our own personal responsibility.

I merely want assisted suicide to be decriminalised, so that those who are willing to take this responsibility are allowed to do so.

BillyD
Guest

“Yes, there is evidence that it is already happening. So clearly, the current system isn’t preventing it.” Um, it’s happening in places where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Are you *sure* you read the material at the link I provided? “I’m not wanting to make medical personnel responsible for being our agents in suicide. That makes it sound as though I wanted to compell them to do something against their conscience and something that absolves us from our own personal responsibility.” I think you’re reading this into it, because there’s nothing in there that suggests making medical personnel kill us against… Read more »

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

Billy said, ‘Fine. Why the need for clinics, then? It’s not as if suicide were such a delicate operation that it needs the expertise of professionals: plenty of people have figured out how to kill themselves throughout history without their doctor’s help; in these days of the instant communication the information necessary for a painless end is more available than ever before.’ This is callous. Sending people away to experiement on how to end their lives without technical assistance and personal-emotional support ? Also the tone is dismissive, as if you don’t care about the people involved in these agonising… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“This is callous. Sending people away to experiement on how to end their lives without technical assistance and personal-emotional support ? Also the tone is dismissive, as if you don’t care about the people involved in these agonising dilemmas, Billy.”

I don’t intend to get into a pissing contest over who cares more about potential suicides, L. However, if my refusal to cloak my side of the discussion in euphemism is startling, I’m not altogether dismayed. I deplore euphemistic discussions about death and dying.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD OK, so we need to find even better ways of protecting the vulnerable. Agreed. I’m not sure where you get the idea that I necessarily support the setting up of clinics. Physician assisted suicide means simply that. Doctors who find themselves in a position where they can compassionately, medically competent and as sensitively as possible help someone to die, and who are willing to do this, should be allowed to. I don’t know enough about suicide to judge whether medical assistance is always helpful. I admit, I’m a little naive, and I’m imagining relatives bringing potentially dodgy drugs and… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“I can see why the church as a whole takes the stance it does, but actually, it has no right to interfere in my life.” What do you think the Church is, and the purpose of the Church? No snottiness there, no tone of “who do you think you are”. I just think this shows a major difference between us, because I just can’t get my head around that statement at all. I simply cannot say that the Church has no right to “interfere” in my life. I can’t even see it as “interefernce” in my life, in most cases.… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“I’m not sure where you get the idea that I necessarily support the setting up of clinics.” I think it was the part where you wrote, “…we also need clinics in UK like those in Europe.” “Like Laurence, I’m a little astonished at your seemingly cold hearted disregard for the people wishing to die.” Erika, you do not know me, or my circumstances, or my history well enough to know how I feel about people who want to commit suicide. All you know is that I don’t write in the same hand-wringing, anodyne euphemisms that some people prefer, and that… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford
What I mean is that where Christians disagree, it is likely that it is possible to be of different opinions, and to live by those opinions with integrity.

That the majority of Christians may decide for themselves that assisted suicide is not for them is fine.
But that does not give them the right to tell me that my understanding of my faith must be precisely like theirs and that I must follow their discernment, not mine.

Helpful advice and explanations, as you put it, is absolutely fine. Actively stopping me from living differently is not.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD Absolutely, I don’t know how you feel. That’s why we’re having this conversation, to work out how each other thinks and feels and why. It’s a bit like a new listening process for a new topic, no? Arguments alone can never be enough with something as big as this. Unless we learn to understand why people think and feel as we do, we simply try to use cold logic to trump each other. Not helpful. But to get back to a more objective conversation, what do you mean by euphemisms? People helping others to die is pretty clear. People… Read more »

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

“…we also need clinics in UK like those in Europe.”

I wrote this, not Erika.

*******************************

It is clear to me that there is little point in trying to have a discussion. I had no idea that it was both essential to know people’s histories and subjectivity to continue this ; and at the same time, unknown and never to be disclosed–apparently.

Fortunately we don’t have to go cap inhand to clergy or medics most of the time in Britain.

Norshould we have to.

BillyD
Guest

“I wrote this, not Erika.”

My bad. I apologize, Erika, for the mistake.

“It is clear to me that there is little point in trying to have a discussion. I had no idea that it was both essential to know people’s histories and subjectivity to continue this…”

You don’t, if you keep yourself to the topic and what’s actually written. When you want to do internet aura readings of how people feel about the subject, then yes – personal knowledge might be helpful.

BillyD
Guest

“Arguments alone can never be enough with something as big as this. Unless we learn to understand why people think and feel as we do, we simply try to use cold logic to trump each other. Not helpful.” No, I don’t think I agree at all with this, Erika. I’m more interested in what people think about a subject, not necessarily how they feel about it. And I certainly don’t think that feelings are as important than ideas when it comes to framing new law. “But to get back to a more objective conversation, what do you mean by euphemisms?”… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD You only have to look at the lgbt debate to see that conversations about “thinking” don’t get anyone anywhere. It’s only a genuine opening up to the other that has any chance of bridging what appears to be unbridgeable divides. I don’t understand why death with dignity is a euphemism? It seems to me to be more dignified to die in clean, comfortable rooms surrounded by your family, than it does to hide away in the garage and rig your exhaust up so it suffocates you while no-one is looking. Right do die is the same thing. When I’ve… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“You only have to look at the lgbt debate to see that conversations about “thinking” don’t get anyone anywhere. It’s only a genuine opening up to the other that has any chance of bridging what appears to be unbridgeable divides.” You *are* kidding, aren’t you? I don’t see that we’ve bridged that particular divide yet. Emoting, on either side of it, certainly doesn’t seem to have helped. “But you’re not actually just objecting to the terminology, are you? You seem to be objecting to the whole idea that people might be allowed to do something you personally don’t approve of.”… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

The only places where the lgbt debate has resulted in a genuine understanding of the other’s view and friendship across the divide, have been those where genuine conversations have taken place. Largely at grassroots level because shouting your own certainties and misrepresenting what the other says, as well as putting words and thoughts into their mouths is a feature of long distance conversations. But have it your way. Stick rigidly with what you KNOW to be right, don’t engage, don’t explain, ignore what everyone else might be saying, ignore the actual people who have tried to get the law changed… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“The only places where the lgbt debate has resulted in a genuine understanding of the other’s view and friendship across the divide, have been those where genuine conversations have taken place.” You seem to be assuming here that the only “genuine conversations” are about emotion, instead of ideas. I don’t think that’s true. I think that emotions have the tendency to becloud clear thinking. “Stick rigidly with what you KNOW to be right, don’t engage, don’t explain, ignore what everyone else might be saying, ignore the actual people who have tried to get the law changed because of their own… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillD OK, let’s take emotion out of it. I really really fail to see why we’re disagreeing. If individual people, disabled or not, do wish to have support to die, and if doctors are willing to help them, I do not see why any group who claims to speak for them should have the right to stop them – whether that’s physicians, disabled rights groups, faith groups or whoever. If individual people, disabled or not, do not wish to die but are happy to continue to live for as long as nature allows them, then no-one has the right to… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“If individual people, disabled or not, do wish to have support to die, and if doctors are willing to help them, I do not see why any group who claims to speak for them should have the right to stop them – whether that’s physicians, disabled rights groups, faith groups or whoever.” For my part, “support to die” is one of those euphemisms I’d avoid, but leave that aside. It’s not that professional organizations like the AMA or the BMA “claim to speak” for physicians – they do, in fact, speak for physicians, and are tasked in part with maintaining… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD I know that professional organisations don’t “claim” to speak for physicians. This conversation is about what I personally would like to see, along with many many others including a fair number of physicians. I’m not expecting to ride roughshod over everyone else, but like with the lgbt debate, I’m hoping that there will eventually be a change towards more self-determination. What we haven’t touched on is what is, to my mind, the real problem – that many people commit suicide earlier than they would want to, because they know their progressive illness will leave them incapable of doing it… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

” that many people commit suicide earlier than they would want to, because they know their progressive illness will leave them incapable of doing it later.”

Do you happen to have any numbers for this?

“Would you oppose help for these people too?”

I can’t see that my objection to the participation of medical personnel in assisted suicide necessarily deprives these people of help. Here in the United States we forbid doctors from administering the lethal injections used in state executions; nevertheless, those executions continue to occur.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD This thread is getting a bit cold now so we’ll probably stop talking here soon. If you really want to continue the conversation, Simon has my email address. As it happens, I don’t have numbers for people who commit suicide before their time. I could try to research them, but it would take me a fair while to assess all the different sources to judge how valid they are. So we’re no longer arguing about people’s rights to help others to die, we’re only saying that doctors shouldn’t be involved? I could understand you saying that those who are… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

You’re right, it’s probably time to wrap this up. It’s funny that you should mention the idea that the pressure I’m concerned about would not necessarily be eliminated by taking doctors out of the picture – that thought came to me, too, last night. It wasn’t my intention to argue against giving people assistance in committing suicide if they need it, but against the participation of medical personnel in the process. I don’t think that most people really need help killing themselves, but for those who absolutely do (people in the last stages of ALS, for example) I’m not against… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

BillyD
Thanks. I’ve enjoyed that conversation. It’s good to see that despite what seemed to be completely opposite views at first, we have found quite lot we agree on.

BillyD
Guest

Same here, Erika.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“But that does not give them the right to tell me that my understanding of my faith must be precisely like theirs and that I must follow their discernment, not mine.” But what is so wrong, so damaging to you, in following the expertise of people better versed in these things than you are? I am a physician, used to work in clinical practice. I can advise you about your health issues, I have the training, the experience. While you do certainly have personal autonomy, if you do not take my advice, why do you bother coming to me? This… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford I think your comment mixes two different things. Of course physicians can lobby for a smoking ban. Every group in society can lobby for anything, and some will have better reasons than others. I am not saying that I would break the law, or that I would deny anyone to lobby for what they want. I just happen to be supporting one side of the debate. The other question is to what extent I will take your advice. And that again is a dual one. In principle, I will take your advice to the extent that I trust your… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“I will listen to all the arguments, take advice, be guided – but then make up my own mind.” I have no argument with the above, but I’m still not comfortable with it as an approach I can take. In thinking about this last night, Erika, I think I may be able to formulate our difference here. Correct me where ever I’m wrong. I suspect that for you, the Primary Relationship is between the believer and God. For me, the primary relationship is between the Church and God. My relationship with God is as a result of my relationship with… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford I think you’re right in saying that I place a greater value on my own responsibility before God than on the church. The Roman Catholic view of “I was told to believe/do it” is an abbrogation of that freedom and responsibility that Christ brought us. But even if your approach is right, I’m at a loss to see what that might mean in practice. There is no The Church that agrees on any single subject bar, possibly, the creeds. Church is a continuous process of discernment, and whenever we’re faced with cutting edge issues we can be pretty sure… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford
I’m not actually sure I quite understand what you’re saying yet. If you believe that the church alone discerns God’s will, and that we must not change our actions until the whole church agrees, how can you live in a partnered relationship, the only nod to the church being your opposition to SSBs? I’m not asking this critically, I genuinely do not understand, because according to your understanding of church and your place within it, are you not deliberately acting against God’s discerned will?

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Erika, to explain it would take way more room than I can take here. I have got a rather long explanation prepared to send off list, it’s just now in need of a bit of editing, for verbosity as much as anything else.