Saturday, 4 May 2013


Miranda Threlfall-Holmes has given a talk entitled “What have Women done for Christianity? Women theologians in Christian history”. You can read it here and listen to it here.

Alan Wilson writes in The Spectator that It’s time for the Church of England to drop the culture wars.

Laura Toepfer writes for the Daily Episcoplian about If we did wedding preparation like confirmation preparation.

Bosco Peters writes the wrath of God was satisfied?

Giles Fraser writes in The Guardian that I want to be a burden on my family as I die, and for them to be a burden on me.

John Bingham in The Telegraph reports: Beware the wrath of the church organist – musical revenge is sweet.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 4 May 2013 at 11:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I don't understand Giles Fraser's conundrum. He wants to be a burden when he dies (FWIW, I suspect I do, too): well and good. No one's going to take that right away from him. Giving other people the OPTION to choose another way, is the limit of the debate.

Speaking of "a fearful way to live": turning every debate into a Slippery-Slope Bete Noir. I don't believe that giving others the right to die, forces me into the obligation to do so.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 4 May 2013 at 8:32pm BST

As a fellow New Zealander, and a firm believer in the Good News of the Gospel - as demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - I concur whole-heartedly with FR. Bosco Peters' reasoned objection to the idea of the 'Wrath of God' being the most important attribute of the God-Head in the matter of redemption wrought by Jesus' characteristic loving words, actions and sacrifice on our behalf.

The paramount message of the Gospel, surely, is that "God so loved the world, that He gave his Only-Begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life". The mission of Jesus was not about punishment, but about God's self-sacrifice in the interests of his human children - that they should not die as a result of their sins; but rather, that they might live because of God's willingness to offer God's-self to us, with us, and for us on our behalf.

Jesus became human, so that we humans could be like God. This is not penal substitution so much as an encouragement towards mutual oblation - for the sake of one another's good. Compassion is what Christ's sacrificial death means for us - when we acknowledge our deepest need of that redemption that God-in-Christ has secured for us - all without wrath, only in LOVE. "They'll know you're my disciples by your Love" - not your judgement!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 5 May 2013 at 2:20am BST

I think Giles' argument is that there is more to this than just a matter of individual choice (though naturally in our hyper-capitalist culture, individual choice does increasingly seem to be the only arbiter of moral value). He's not making a "slippery slope" argument - rather he's interrogating the assumptions that lie behind public attitudes to physician-assisted suicide. Choice, he might be saying, is never all that free, and our options are always constrained by the culture in which we live. If we live in a culture that perceives individuals as autonomous atoms suspended in a howling void, then we will opt for death every time. I take Giles to be saying that what we need is a social ethic of loving care, rather than simply an ethic of individual choice, and that this should influence our response to the question of euthanasia. I think his intervention is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking I've encountered in what is generally a very tired and cliche-riddled debate.

Posted by: rjb on Sunday, 5 May 2013 at 4:49am BST

Fraser is writing of people suffering from, say, cancer. It's clear he has no conception at all of the experience of people with dementia, many of whom spend their final months in a state of terror. I don't want to die peacefully at an appropriate time for the sake of my family; I want to die peacefully at an appropriate time for my own sake. Two close relatives died protracted, painful and terrified deaths, completely unaware and unrecognising of anyone around them, deaths barbarously extended by selfish religious spouses. Why should a 90 year old woman suffering from advanced dementia be resuscitated repeatedly? Why are Christians, who claim to believe in an afterlife, so terrified of death?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 5 May 2013 at 10:51am BST

I would not want to condemn my children to look after me. If they offered and if it was appropriate taking into account the level of care I needed, their other responsibilities and their abilities, it would be the greatest and most amazing gift.
But it has to be a gift, it cannot be something I simply expect of them.

And I am not afraid of death. I do, right now, not think that I would want to delay it at all cost - cost to them and cost to myself.
All choices can be selfish, none is necessarily always selfish.
I want the choice for me and my family to make our own choices that are right for us when the time comes.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 5 May 2013 at 9:56pm BST

I disagree with Mr. Fraser on euthanasia. The notion of a good death sounds too good to be true. Releasing people from suffering in certain carefully defined circumstances seems reasonable.

People ought to be able to decide for themselves how they want to end their lives in the same way we allow them to follow a religious tradition or not. Tradition was made for people and not people for tradition.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 4:00am BST

But 'delaying at any cost' is not the same as euthanasia. Also, 'do not resuscitate' orders are common in the UK, and most patients and families have signed them for people with dementia and other terminal conditions. I don't think UK Christians are any less likely to adopt this sensible and pragmatic approach to death, or indeed that the euthanasia debate is about rational and compassionate end-of-life care.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 8:49am BST

I'm not sure where the boundaries of "delaying at all cost" and euthanasia are. If we didn't delay at all cost with all our medical knowledge the question of euthanasia would rarely arise.
We have accepted that people have the right to end their own lives, but then we treat them to the point where they can no longer do that and we don't allow them or others any further options.

I am not a fan of "thin end of the wedge" arguments, safeguards may be complex but they are no impossible. And I cannot but hear the cases of those who have fought for their own right to assisted dying in high profile public campaigns. Their suffering is real, their stories are harrowing, the level of disenfranchisement we force on them at the end of their lives is shocking. Claiming to know better than they do what is right for them is presumptuous. Saying that their fate does not matter as much as other people's abstract morals is almost cruel. Claiming to know that better palliative care is all they need, without ever having spoken to them, is not credible.

It's a highly patronising argument, whatever genuine moral concerns it arises from.
We tolerate it in no other sphere of life.

As much as I admire Giles Fraser - and I mean that, to me he is one of the most moral Christians with a level of intelligent integrity that few others have - I draw the line at allowing him to decide how my family and I deal with my own dying when the time comes.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 11:19am BST

"safeguards may be complex but they are no[t] impossible" Erika Baker

I'm reserving judgement on the whole issue until I see what these safeguards are. Perhaps I've seen too many episodes of 'Poirot', but my main fear remains the hastened disposal of the rich elderly by greedy relations.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 2:16pm BST

I agree, we need to discuss this. But we need to discuss it! So far, the safeguarding topic has only ever used to block any further conversation about it all.

There is nothing to stop rich elderly people from writing to their GPs, for example, confirming that come what may, they never want to be helped to die by anyone.

If I can make an advance directive about not wanting my life to be prolonged unnecessarily, I should also be able to make one stressing that it should never be ended prematurely in the unlikely event that I should be so ill that I cannot even communicate with my care team any longer and that my next of kin sets to persuading the doctors that it would be better to bump me off against all better medical knowledge.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 4:05pm BST

I don't know - you see, I know it would be quite easy to persuade me I was morally bound to take my own life or cause it to be taken, to avoid inconveniencing my family. I know I personally would not be strong enough to stand out against a culture where that was the norm. To me, actively taking a life is quite different from not taking steps to prolong a life. I think not giving antibiotics, not tube feeding, certainly not resuscitating, are totally different from choosing to end life when one 'becomes a burden'.

Many of my freinds have elderly parents who are in various stages of failing life. Many have now reached the stage where antibiotics will only be given if the disease for which they would potentially be given will cause suffering or distress. All have 'do not resuscitate' notes.

But how would one organise euthanasia for a disease whose primary characteristic is that the person loses mental capacity? Would they do it before they became confused? Thus potentially losing years of happy life with just occasional wandering? Or would the decision be that they were put to sleep when they failed to recognise a child, a partner? When they failed to recognise the partner once? Twice? Failed to recognise them for a week? And how would you explain what you were going to do? 'When you were well you decided that you were to be euthanased when you did not recognise Mary - so say good bye now.' HOW could you manage it for such a condition? And that is the real problem, because for most, though not all, other diseases the patient can, in fact, arrange an exit themselves.

I actually think our current fudge of too many drugs, and withholding treatment, works pretty well.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 10:42pm BST

The problem with this debate is that most of the slippery slope argument are constructed out of whole cloth. For example, if it really were the case that relatives would pressurise elderly relatives into early deaths, then there would be regular disputes about attempts to get DNR notices issued. But that's not what happens: the dispute in real hospitals and real courts, as opposed to straw man hospitals, is doctors attempting to get DNR notices on patients for whom there really is no purpose in heroic measures, and being resisted by relatives. The arguments about the Liverpool Pathway have been outraged relatives demanding that the patients be kept alive, not the reverse. If people are so keen to off their inconvenient relatives, why are there so few cases of doctors being pressurised to sign inappropriate DNR notices, and so many cases of relatives demanding that DNR notices be removed?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 6 May 2013 at 10:55pm BST

My father died of a dreadful brain tumor that impaired his mental capacity. It was like 4 months of accelerated Alzheimer's. My mother has dementia. It was really hard to pin point the start of hers. In neither case were they in a position to make judgements about their treatment. Long ago, both made Living Wills that asked for no heroic measures to prolong the dying process. At the appropriate time we put DNR's into place. And we didn't subject Dad to the latest and greatest medical treatments (there really would have been no point).

I guess there could be situations where people have the capacity to decide for themselves whether to carry on naturally or not. But I am so uncomfortable with the idea of ending life. Medicate, fine. Withhold heroic treatments, by all means.

It turns out that a recent study found that when people go into hospice they tend to thrive better than when in treatments. Quality and quantity of life improve. I know that I cherished the time I had with my father. I would have missed much if he'd ended his life upon diagnosis. Dad had an old fashioned "good death" at home (yes, there was morphine to insure that there was no pain).

I am deeply conflicted about a public policy that allows euthanasia.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 at 7:25am BST

I think I should have to clarify that I would like euthanasia to be allowed to alleviate patient suffering not to relieve relatives of a burden. So I don't really think it applies to dementia patients who are not aware of their condition in the end.
But it does apply to conditions where the patient retains mental clarity right to the end.
Although I recognise that Terry Pratchett is fighting for dementia to be included too.

The "at what point" question is important, but again, I would not want it to be a reason for not even having the conversation.
And, Rosemary, I think we discussed this on here before but I can't remember what conclusion we came to. Would you not feel able to write a private notice for your medical notes that you did not want to be euthanised ever, regardless of what you might say later?
There is a point where someone has to make that decision. And there is no reason why that should not be you and why it should not be now. The risk is that you might later wish you had not made it, but then you would be in no worse situation than you are with the current legislation.

I find Interested Oberver's comment very interesting. Are there actual statistics about how often people try to prevent hastening death of relatives rather than speed it up?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 at 8:29am BST

Yes, but I think neither Gordon Fraser nor myself are making 'slippery slope' arguments. We are making 'culture' arguments. That it can become all to easy for a culture to develop with certain expectations. Indeed Fraser makes the point that he is not worried about premature deaths so much as what we are teaching about life - that to be worthwhile life must be self reliant and autonomous. That is a much more serious and further reaching point, and I agree.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 at 8:35am BST

I agree that life does not have to be self reliant and autonomous.
But that is no reason not to permit assisted dying and euthanasia.
People can be dependent for years before finally having had enough for whatever reason. No-one suggests that they should be killed off at the first sign of disability and dependence.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 at 7:44pm BST

Nice piece by the Bishop of Buckingham. My favorite is this "If it [CoE] wishes to play a significant part in the society it purports to serve, it needs to shed its institutional sexism and homophobia. Jesus mandates Christians to treat others as they would be treated. But it cannot simultaneously do this and not do this."

Exactly, and he goes on to say that it isn't OK to compromise the justice and dignity of other people. That is the problem. There isn't room for compromise when it comes to justice.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 at 9:16pm BST
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