Comments: Assisted Suicide: Church views

Unlike some who may think about how you would vote on this issue, I have the experience of actually being at the polls and pushing the lever.
As an US Oregon resident, I voted on legislation that permitted this in our state. Oregon's legislation was hotly debated with opponents arguing that the legislation would allow for mass deaths, undue influence on ill people, and a cruelty to those most vulnerable, the ill and his or her relatives. No matter how one feels about the actions taken by Oregon, whether you are for or against, if the outcome matters in how you consider decision, if memory serves, after 5+ years, less than 400 people had made the decision to terminate their lives. (I can't verify my statistics at the moment)..The point is there was no abuse, no huge influx of the dying into the state, etc. Oregon provided very strong safeguards. As the CofE moves to make a decision, maybe the experience of Oregon, the only state in the US that has this legislation, might be useful.

Posted by EmilyH at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 1:59pm BST

The CofE is not the decision maker here. There is not even any proposal at the moment to modify the law on this issue, only a requirement imposed by the courts to clarify the way in which decisions to prosecute or not are made.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 2:08pm BST

EmilyH, there seems to be disagreement as to whether or not everything is as fine with Oregon's system as you state. And the fact that "only" 400 people have taken advantage of the law is, of course, not proof that there is "no abuse."

Posted by BillyD at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 4:23pm BST

I become increasingly curious about the theology that lies behind the Church's position against assisted suicide. The only thing I have ever heard is the old saw: "Life is given by God, and can only by taken by God."

But that is ridiculous since medical science has already made it "normal" to delay a "God-given" end of life by medical intervention. If we can morally keep people alive by human intervention; why can we not morally help people to die by the same human intervention?

Posted by John-Julian, OJN at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 4:55pm BST

I am in favour of both legalisation of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

However, it is not a simple issue and clearly there are no easy answers. I think that the ability of medicine to extend years in life without the parallel ability to do something about life in years will make this something which will stay on the agenda in the future.

The reality is that juries will not convict in these cases and this is at last partially why this guidance has been published.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 6:03pm BST

The protestant and rc bishops talking rubbish again.

Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication; '

'Must be' ? Wishful thinking, I'm afraid . It is not met by such treatment. Not...

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 6:24pm BST

Billy D. As I am not in the US at the moment and am having trouble thinking in English at all, I may not have been clear. My point was that the opponents of the legislation were extremely vocal in denouncing the legislation predicting massive abuse. That didn't happen. Unfortunately I can not access some of the sites you are suggesting, when I return to the US, I will take a look at your suggestions. Also, I wasn't able to review some of Simon's suggestions for the same reason, but, I assume eventually Parliament (and through it the CofE) will be addressing this concern?

Posted by EmilyH at Friday, 25 September 2009 at 7:51pm BST

The 'Hypocratic Oath' - which has hitheto bound medics towards the 'saving' of life wherever it is within their means to do so - has already been compromised by the culture of hospitals which, in the case of older (or severely infirm) patients, asks them to consider whether, in fact, if they are considered to be 'clinically dead' while on the operating table, they would prefer not to be resuscitated.

In such cases, patients are told to advise the clinicians that they wish to be labelled as 'not requiring resuscitation'. Is this not, in effect, one way of intentionally 'committing suicide'?

And to what degree is this different, in intention, from being allowed to die with dignity, which is what happens when an attending doctor allows a patient to be deprived of food or liquids in order to accelerate the oprocess of dying? When is the need for compassion a moral alternative to an agonising death?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 26 September 2009 at 2:51am BST


Sentamu is terrified of this "slippery slope" that might end lives, but is completely willing to destroy souls, minds and hope by helping Williams to insist on providing aid and comfort to the homophobes and misogynists.

Clearly, Christianity, as an organized religion, doesn't believe what it professes.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Saturday, 26 September 2009 at 5:45am BST

"If we can morally keep people alive by human intervention; why can we not morally help people to die by the same human intervention?"

It isn't about human intervention, but about society's overall rejection of the naturalness of death. We intently pretend it doesn't exist. We prefer euphemisms like "he passed" as though death is some sort of exam and those of us who wake up every morning got an 'F'. You get something like two or three days "compassionate leave"(!) for a first degree family member, and that's it. I read about Maori death customs, surprisingly like what used to happen here tradionally. Like us, the community mourns, for three days, at the end of which time the mourners had "exhausted their grief". Amen. If you haven't attended a wake in the house of the dead person, who is also in attendance in his casket on the dining room table, if you haven't been expected to do nothing but mourn while the community cooks and cleans for you, if you haven't sat while someone raises hymn after hymn for the whole house to sing, then you don't know what it can, and is supposed to, be. So, you ignore it, till someone's suffering can no longer be ignored, and the only thing you can come up with is to kill him, jusitifed as "compassion" and "respect for autonomy". But we're so much more open about sex than they were a century ago, so we're more "advanced".

How can we support people if we are unwilling to acknowledge what they are experiencing? Many changes have taken place, palliative care units and hospices are more and more common, and I don't think that, here at least, the situation warrants Rev L's bleak scenario. But much still needs to be done, all the same. There is no need for people to die in pain and suffering. Our inability to acknowledge the naturalness of suffering and death makes us unable to come up with any other way of preventing it than killing those whose suffering we have, through our own denial of their life situation, made intolerable. THAT'S what needs to be addressed.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 28 September 2009 at 2:35pm BST

Okay, let's check in with Sentamu again, say, if or when he lies daily upon some hospital bed, wracked with constant deep pain untreatable; diminished in so many basic body and intellectual functions that he is pale to a shadow of his former self; and nearly completely dependent upon others for what body or intellectual functions remain, fading.

Than ask him to glorify long life. My guess? Sentamu might cave, just faced with the convincing likelihood of impending bodily-intellectual downward trending. Or will we maintain him in a vegetative coma forever, thanks to miracles of modern medical technology; until his display case becomes an object of sacred Anglican veneration like a proclaimed wrist bone of Saint Anne?

Posted by drdanfee at Monday, 28 September 2009 at 8:48pm BST

"maintain him in a vegetative coma forever"

What you describe is NOT a vegetative coma, but a weakened human being relying on others for care and compassion. Would it be so bad to be expected to give it to him? How much "deep pain, untreatable" is there in the world? I submit that a lot of what passes for "deep pain, untreatable" in this day and age is actually "pain that is eminently treatable but most GPs haven't been properly trained to do so." Up till recently, physicians have been very poorly trained in adequate pain control, as you know. We don't get to kill people just because we haven't been given the skills to look after them, surely.

We are built in such a fashion that as we approach death, things happen to us to ease the transition. Our ability to maintain a clean airway becomes compromised and secretions pool in our lungs. We develop pneumonia and die peacefully. That's how we're made. If our brains are damaged a la Terry Schivo (?), we can't protect our airways, and, again, get pneumonia, and die. The answer in such situations is NOT to start feeding tubes and antibiotics, but to let nature take over. We physicians are taught to think death is the enemy. But it's individual. Sometimes death is an enemy to a 90 year old and a friend to a 50 year old. We physicians have to fight "death the enemy" with everything we have, but we also need the wisdom to perceive "death the friend" when we see him. If Sentamu were in a vegetative coma with no hope of change, well, God built us with mechanisms for dealing with that, and we should not get in their way. But between the inhumanity of keeping him alive when nothing remains but protoplasm and the inhumanity of killing him because his life is "no longer worth living" there's the middle ground of caring for him while nature takes its course. That takes a bit longer. It also demands that we caregivers acknowledge that weakness, inanition, and death are also part of the human experience, and we don't get to hide from them just because we have somehow decided that we can videotape someone's entry into this world, traumatic and gory though THAT may be, but we think leaving this world is so unnatural we can't even say the word.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 29 September 2009 at 2:14pm BST

Thank you, Ford, for allowing us into the perspective of a caring medical doctor. It would seem that the Church, in it's anxiety to affirm the principle of life given by God, is sometimes guilty of not acknowledging also 'death given by the same agency.

I agree with you, that we need to apply proper theological principles to the whole business of palliative care - on the basis that both death and life are the prerogative and gift of a loving, caring Creator and Life-Giver. How the Church deals with that theological reality is most important - that is, if we really believe the God is the 'Author and Giver of Life'.

To prolong a life that has become unbearable to its recipient might just be denying them the right to death - in a climate where we want to affirm the alternative - the 'Right to Life'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 29 September 2009 at 11:00pm BST

in a case of Assisted suicide there are conflicts between autonomy (think for themselves), beneficience (to do what is in the best interest of the patient) as well as non-malficence (do no harm.)

Sentamu implies that this service will be available to anyone when it is only the extremes which will CHOOSE to take it. He is clearly letting his religious belief outweigh his rational thought. Moral purity at the expense of others sufferung does not justify the prohibition of PAS.

He touches on consent "coercion" and this is what he believes may happen, what is there to say that there are extremely strict guidelines that will be introduced, one day someone may undermine the system but if it helps thousands it may be a worthy risk.

The ability for the patient to make the choice is important and it is also important to highlight that no one should be forced into this, it is within the patients autonomy to go through with this, no reccommendations should be made.

Well, that's what I think anyway.

Posted by rp at Thursday, 10 December 2009 at 7:33pm GMT
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