THINKING ANGLICANS

Church responses to latest euthanasia lobby report

A group which styles itself as The Commission on Assisted Dying issued a report last week.

The official Church of England response was this: Statement on the report of the Commission for Assisted Dying.

The ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is a self-appointed group that excluded from its membership anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide. In contrast, the majority of commissioners, appointed personally by Lord Falconer, were already in favour of changing the law to legitimise assisted suicide. Lord Falconer has, himself, been a leading proponent for legitimising assisted suicide, for some years.

The commission undertook a quest to find effective safeguards that could be put in place to avoid abuse of any new law legitimising assisted suicide. Unsurprisingly, given the commission’s composition, it has claimed to have found such safeguards.

Unlike the commissioners, we are unconvinced that the commission has been successful in its quest. It has singularly failed to demonstrate that vulnerable people are not placed at greater risk under its proposals than is currently the case under present legislation. In spite of the findings of research that it commissioned, it has failed adequately to take into account the fact that in all jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia is permitted, there are breaches of safeguards as well as notable failures in monitoring and reporting.

The present law strikes an excellent balance between safeguarding hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people and treating with fairness and compassion those few people who, acting out of selfless motives, have assisted a loved one to die.

Put simply, the most effective safeguard against abuse is to leave the law as it is. What Lord Falconer has done is to argue that it is morally acceptable to put many vulnerable people at increased risk so that the aspirations of a small number of individuals, to control the time, place and means of their deaths, might be met. Such a calculus of risk is unnecessary and wholly unacceptable.

The Church Times reported this in a news article by Ed Thornton Assisted dying ‘unwise’, warns Canon

CANON James Woodward, a member of the Falconer Commis­sion on Assisted Dying, this week declined to support its conclusion that there is “a strong case for providing the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill people”.

The Commission, chaired by the former Lord Chancellor, was established in September 2010 “to consider whether the current legal and policy approach to assisted dying in England and Wales is fit for purpose”.

Its report, published yesterday, argues that the law should be changed to allow terminally ill people in the last year of their lives who are mentally sound to ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose. A second doctor would have to assess the candidate independently, and alternative treatments would have to be presented. Candidates would have to administer the lethal dose themselves.

The Revd Dr Woodward, a Canon of Windsor, was the sole dissenting voice on the Commission. He said last week that a visit to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland had been his Damascus-road experience. Writing in today’s Church Times, he says: “Fundamentally, we cannot demand freedom to choose at any cost. I understand that there are significant difficulties with the current law. Yet my visit to Switzer­land . . . raised many more ques­tions about the way a culture views life, death, and the freedom to choose…

The full text of Canon Woodward’s article is available at Why I dissented from Falconer.

…It has been a privilege to travel alongside my fellow commissioners, but we have not ended up in the same place. In the end, mine was the single dissenting voice from the con­clusions. My fellow commissioners have accommodated my divergence with generosity. I support the co­herence, rigour, and quality of this work, and hope that it will be read and used as a basis for further research, work, and public debate…

The Church Times also carried this leader article: Assisting the dying to find dignity.

THE Commission on Assisted Dying assembled by Lord Falconer knew that it had a large stone to push uphill. Parliamentary debates too numerable to recall have considered various schemes for euthanasia and found all wanting. A certain level of help with the stone-pushing has been gained by presenting this as a libertarian issue: those nasty, conservative Churches preventing people from doing what they wish. But, in general, the difficulties of regulation and the lack of safeguards have left a large body of opinion unconvinced that a change in the law can be made securely, even before any slippery-slope arguments are deployed…

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Erika BakerMarkBrunsonSimon DawsonChris HLaurence Roberts Recent comment authors
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Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

“The ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is a self-appointed group that excluded from its membership anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide.”

Were there terminally ill people on the panel or is this yet another example of one group of people speaking and legislating about another group without any direct reference to their wishes and without truly hearing their voices?

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Worries about a ‘stacked’ commission?

Has the Church a clear record on this? Or has it erected its own ‘stacked’ entities – like the new one on ‘Human Sexuality’, for instance!

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

My best ever spiritual director told me that her main role in my life was to prepare me for a good death. Not to prepare me to choose my dying, or to sustain physical life, or to leave me in control of my dying, or to collude with my desires and fantasies. There is a wonderful phrase in JK Rowling’s “Tales of Beadle the Bard” – the tale of the three brothers – where the third brother is said, at the end of his life, to greet death as a friend. The discourse here, on both sides, does not allow… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

I’m across the ocean and ambivalent, but I’m struck by this lead:

“Church responses to latest euthanasia lobby report – A group which styles itself as The Commission on Assisted Dying issued a report last week.”

It feels like a very slanted characterization, Simon: “euthanasia lobby” “styles itself”.

[I’m uncomfortably reminded by everyone who says “homosexual lobby”, or “style themselves ‘gay Christians'”.]

I believe it’s perfectly possible to *disagree* w/ this perspective, w/o characterizing the people proposing it in such a pejorative fashion.

William
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William

This legislation will affect all of us Erika. Once suicide is seen as a legitimate option, then all sorts of pressures could be exerted on an individual’s psyche – particularly the most vulnerable and defenceless. There is no way of guaranteeing that the right to die does not begin to feel like an obligation to die.

Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

The Church of England itself has excluded dissenters for centuries. This sounds like projection. Why should terminally ill patients wishing to end their lives have to travel to Switzerland in order to seek assisted suicide when it would make more sense for him/her to be surrounded with loved ones at home? The principle here I see is the autonomy of the individual. If it can be demonstrated a terminally ill individual wants to end their life, is not suffering from depression, etc., I see nothing wrong. If it were up to the churches, homosexuality, contraception, and abortion would still be… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

William, It is a scandal if a person who does not want to die should be pressurised into suicide. It is a scandal if a person who is already terminally ill should be prevented from committing suicide. Why does it have to be either/or? Is it really beyond our capability to protect the old and the frail and to have better safeguards and provisions for their treatment in place? Is it really impossible to have outstanding hospice support, trained care givers, excellent palliative care and psychological support yet still give terminally ill people a choice? Why do so many insist… Read more »

Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

I agree with you, Erika, that it doesn’t need to be either/or but can be both/and. There needs to be good palliative care as well as the right for the terminally ill to die as they choose. Enough of this hypocrisy of outlawing suicide for the terminally ill but looking the other way if a family member helps them end their lives! Among Episcopalians in the United States, I don’t think there is any real consensus so it would make no sense for the denomination to make a pronouncement. I suspect that is the case in the UK too. On… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

I am so in agreement with what Gary Paul Gilbert said and Erika Baker. With such clarity, feeling and depth of spirit.

You speak my mind. Thank you.

William
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William

Erika, I’m thinking of the countless elderly people who feel that they are a financial and emotional burden on their families. The Chrsitian response – indeed the human response – is to assure them that they are intrinsically valuable; that no matter what, they have a dignity. To present euthanasia as an option would have disastrous consequences on this view of the human person. No ammount of safeguarding could protect vulnerable people from feeling duty bound to explore all the available options.

Laurence C.
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Laurence C.

My fear is that changes in legislation regarding assisted dying will result in the bumping-off of elderly relations for their money.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

William and Laurence C. We’re not talking about euthanasia, we’re talking about assisted suicide. And we’re talking about assisted suicide in circumstances where 2 doctors have certified that the patient is terminally ill and likely to die within 12 months and that he is not depressed nor suffering from any impaired judgement. We are not talking about relatives gathering and “bumping off” people, nor are we talking about doctors nilly willy killing people. I know there are fears and I know they are genuine and they have to be dealt with. But misrepresenting what is being proposed and inflating the… Read more »

Laurence C.
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Laurence C.

“But misrepresenting what is being proposed and inflating the potential horrors of it is not helping the debate.” Erika Baker

Why does it not help the debate? – because you don’t agree with what I’ve said?

I don’t believe I’m “inflating the potential horrors” – I think euthanasia under the guise of assisted suicide could be a very real danger. And the most obvious motive for people doing it, is money.

I normally agree wholeheartedly with what you post here and elsewhere – I’m happy to agree to differ on this one!

William
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William

Erika,
My point is relevant to both euthanasia and assisted suicide – there is a huge possibility that people will feel obliged to end their life rather than be a drain on family or an economy with limited resources. The weakest and most vulnerable in society must be protected from this pressure. A human life is intrinsically valuable.

david rowett
Guest

Just to voice my unease and align myself a bit with Laurence. I’ve met with enough people who might fall into this category to know that a fair few of them might feel that they ‘ought’ to go (to protect family assets, to ease the burden on others, etc etc). And it offers such a cheap way out for government, too – ‘There’s an option available to you to lessen your distress, we don’t really now need to invest in end-of-life care.’ For those who know Asimov’s ‘pebble in the sky’ it’s not an entirely far-fetched scenario. Seems to me… Read more »

Chris H.
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Chris H.

From a secular standpoint elderly people who are a financial burden to their families (and the government) deciding to die to remove that burden is not necessarily impaired judgment. Some would even dress it up as a gift. “If I die now I give my family an inheritance that they won’t get if I wait for the disease to run it’s course.” And even small comments by family,friends,or doctors and nurses can send someone down that mental path. “The Guardian”‘s list of diseases that people suffered from when they chose assisted suicide is troubling. 20% aren’t terminal. Washington state has… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Laurence C. I may be wrong here. I accept that. But nevertheless… there’s a pattern in these debates and I know it very well from the women bishop’s debate and from the lgbt debate. Opponents will whip up fears, link causes and effects that need not be linked, refuse to accept any de-linking. Proponents accept no fears, no correlations, no dangers. But there’s a middle – there’s always a middle. And after some debating it’s always the same. People accept genuine pros and cons, they recognise genuine dangers and false alarms. And they begin to see that things they had… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
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Rosemary Hannah

I say this with some sorrow, because I am a liberal to the core. I am quite sure that if assisted suicide was legal, and reasonably common, I would feel honour bound to take that path, despite my personal distaste for it, because it would make things simpler for my family – and I would know just how to dress it up to make sure I got it. As David says, I would start to feel I ‘ought’ to do it.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Rosemary, do you think you would be able to convince 2 doctors that you were terminally ill with less than 12 months to live if that wasn’t actually the case? And let’s not forget in this debate that suicide is already legal! No-one is stopping anyone from killing themselves if they wish. We’re talking about helping people who would like to live a little longer not to have to commit premature suicide, or appalling suicide like pushing their own wheelchair off a cliff – before they’re ready to go simply because they know that a little later they will no… Read more »

Gary Paul Gilbert
Guest
Gary Paul Gilbert

Erika, I agree with you this slippery slope argument can’t work. The church people seem to be saying that because of original sin nobody should be allowed the freedom to make their own choice lest they mess up. Some traditionalists claiming to speak for the whole church or even God sometimes seem to lack faith that life can be lived like an adult. People who wish to shackle themselves to medieval ideas should have that freedom but those who want to suspend or even reject those prohibtions should be able to move on. Oh, dear, liberalism is supposed to be… Read more »

William
Guest
William

“do you think you would be able to convince 2 doctors that you were terminally ill with less than 12 months to live if that wasn’t actually the case?”

Yes Erika!

People will do anything if the money is right.

William
Guest
William

There will always be unscrupulous doctors willing to sign bits of paper if the price is right. But this still isn’t really my main concern – I’m worried that a certain line will have been crossed that seems to suggest human life is disposable. This could cause real problems in the future, particularly where economics are concerned. Once you say that a life can be dispensed with (even if it is the choice of the individual concerned), then it places pressures on vulnerable people which they really shouldn’t be subjected to. This is why the disability groups are so alarmed.… Read more »

Robert ian Williams
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Robert ian Williams

I know an elderly lady, whose family were offered the Liverpool pathway…and they refused, and the patient made a full recovery.

How many others have been bumped off… it seems to me the only difference between this and Harold Shipman is speed. He killed his patients instantly, and did not de-hydrate them and starve them to death over days.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

Erika,if I were terminally ill, with a life-expectancy of a year, I am quite sure sure I could convince any set of doctors that I really wanted to die then and there. I could do that and probably would, even if I felt it was morally wrong, because I think a life-time of convincing myself that I wanted what was most convenient to my family would over-ride anything else. That is the question. Is it right to put the terminally ill in the position of feeling they need to tidy themselves away before them become a blessed nuisance to others.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

William, yes, there is a fine line. And this debate is precisely about where that line is at present, whether it should remain where it is or whether it can be changed a little. In the absolute sense you interpret it life is already “disposable”. People are allowed to kill themselves. They are allowed to refuse further medical treatment. Doctors can already refuse futile medical treatment. And although assisted suicide is not legal, after a number of high profile cases there have not been any prosecutions for people who have assisted someone to die. I do respect all serious concerns… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Rosemary, I accept what you say. And I recognise it’s danger. But… then the question becomes to which extent you are responsible for your own choices, be they good or bad. We don’t live in a completely controlled society, we always strive for the best possible balance between regulations, protection and risk and autonomy. The real question is what the response to the danger you cite should be. Is it to stop all possibility of it occurring – even if that means curtailing other people’s right to end their own intolerable situations? Or is it to recognise the danger and… Read more »

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

Robert Ian Williams wrote: “I know an elderly lady, whose family were offered the Liverpool pathway…and they refused, and the patient made a full recovery.” And I’ve known patients *on* the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) be taken off it because they have rallied. It is not a death-sentence, it is a protocol for holistic care of a patient (including a requirement to consider their spiritual needs) after an assessment by medical staff that someone is nearing the end of their natural life and that agressive treatment is therefore no longer appropriate. It is a means of bringing elements of good… Read more »

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

Robert Ian Williams: “How many others have been bumped off… it seems to me the only difference between this and Harold Shipman is speed. He killed his patients instantly, and did not de-hydrate them and starve them to death over days.” Some of the tabloids appear to me to promote much misinformation about the Liverpool Care Pathway. It is about the withdrawl of active *treatment* not deliberate starvation. Conscious patients are offered food and drink. In my experience it allows patients to die peacefully and with a degree of privacy and dignity not afforded by the constant round of observations… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Could we not have an opt-in or opt-out scheme for assisted suicide, like we do for organ donation and for living wills? If anyone already knows that they would never like to avail themselves of the option, or if they fear they will be coerced at some point in the future, all they have to do is formally opt out. Granted, it would stop them from changing their minds once they were terminally ill, but that would be no different to not having the choice in the first place. Or it could work the other way round – if someone… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘(even if it is the choice of the individual concerned)’

ah yes, ignore and over rule people requesting assistance to die — for their own good !

Where have I heard that before ?

When a powerful, articulate middle to upper class group ignore a minority, I know something is up.

Sometimes, there are worse things than death you know. But that is for each individual to determine for themselves.

Can you really say, “My belief in the sacredness of your life runs so deep, that your wishes are to be over-ruled, and you must suffer it” ?

Chris H.
Guest
Chris H.

Without being a mind-reader, you can’t have the assurance that it hasn’t caused an increase in involuntary deaths because you can’t see into people’s hearts and minds. People can and will lie. Doctors aren’t gods and can’t always tell. Caregivers,family,society, etc. have a huge influence over people’s thoughts and when a patient is truly unable to commit suicide themselves they’re often too weak to spell out all the reasons they do or don’t want to do it or even to communicate if it’s their wish or the wish of their caregiver(s). Making PAS legal in Washington actually reduced the number… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Maggie your two posts are beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us all. So good to know people who happen to be dying or seriously ill, can recieve such profound, respectful medical and spiritual care. And respect for their personhood and wishes. Maggie for me you give a sense of ‘process’ or ‘journey'(Pathway) which is different for all in its outworking. We on here, the government and all concerned need to keep a sense of process in mind, I believe. Btw I am so glad it called the Liverpool Pathway for various reasons. Including CG Jung’sLiuverpool Dream and the Mandala he… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Erika your suggestions have such clarity and yet are so practical. Thank you.

Visionary and practical. I can’t help feeling Mother Julian somewhere around too

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Chris H, those statistics are fascinating. I wonder whether some of it is to do with the patients knowing that they could ask for assisted suicide if the felt they needed it which eases the pressure and the fears and allows them to live day to day with their illness, maybe discovering they don’t want suicide after all. Many of the suicides we see could be a panic reaction to pre-empt the dreaded final stages of an illness and if people knew they would always have a way out, they might not make that final move too soon and then… Read more »

Chris H
Guest
Chris H

Perhaps everyone should be given a cyanide pill to use whenever they want, problem solved? Or perhaps requiring mental therapy to calm the panic would reduce the need. Only 3 of the 63 people that year talked to a psychologist before getting the prescriptions. The possibility of coercion is still high and as the idea of suicide becomes more accepted, the number doing it grows by leaps and bounds. Our American society already makes the old, weak, etc. feel useless and unwanted. A secular gov’t might not care if people remove themselves before they cost too much, but I don’t… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Robert Ian Williams, And I have known patients NOT on the Liverpool pathway who were clearly dying. But because they were not on the pathway their last few days on this earth were over-medicalised with blood tests and temperature checks and constant disturbances and all the things that make hospital life so tiring for a patient. And I have known patients NOT on the Liverpool pathway who were dying. Because they were dying their body’s need for hydration was drastically reduced – their body was shutting down and preparing itself for death in its own wonderful way. But because the… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

The scandal is that people *want* to die.

Not just the terminally ill.

And all of us having this conversation are responsible for that, just as everyone not having this conversation is.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Chris, I don’t think the church should “encourage” anything. But I do think that we ought to take other people’s autonomy over their own lives very seriously and constrain it only when it’s absolutely necessary. We don’t have to agree with their choices in order to respect that we don’t really have the right to interfere with them either, unless for a very very good reason. That anyone should have access to the kind of psychological and palliative support you wish for yourself goes without saying. But we are also talking about a situation none of us here has been… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark
“The scandal is that people *want* to die.”

There’s nothing scandalous if a very sick person accepts that the end of their life is coming and would rather it came a little sooner than to have to suffer terribly with no hope of improvement.

I could just as easily say that the scandal is that we simply cannot accept death as a natural part of life that we do everything to delay and avoid it, even when that has become completely counterproductive.

We need to seriously re-assess our relationship with death.