Comments: Faith leaders unite to oppose Assisted Dying Bill

I can and and only do speak for myself with regard to this. But depending on the circumstances, when my time is near I would like to at least have the option of considering assisted dying.

Posted by Fr Paul at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 6:46pm BST

Some people don't want to suffer through a slow and humiliating death, which no amount of palliative care can alter; their relatives are, likewise, greatly distressed at having to watch the person they love become a shell of themselves.

Elder abuse is a pretext. If it weren't, they'd be demanding that the right to withdraw from treatment, equally open to coercion, be withdrawn.

What lies behind this is religious dogma about only God having the right to take life. What scares Welby is people having agency over their own lives. Like all authoritarians, he wants to be in control, from who you sleep with, to how you die.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 7:35pm BST

I made a "decision for Christ" at the age of 7. This led to many years of torment as I grappled with same-sex attraction. While there may be other factors, I believe that, although I came to realise my SSA was God-given, it was too late to develop any long lasting relationship.
I watched my mother die a long lingering death assisted by my sister and to a lesser extent myself but regularly saying she wished she was gone and that it would be unbearable except for our care. My sister is my only relative but is 10 years older than me so unlikely to provide the same for me as she did for Mum, and why should she. She is an active campaigner for Euthanasia. As with Gay acceptance the church is the greatest hindrance.
I am fast coming at age 71 to the realisation that that decision at age 7 as the worst I have ever made. My non-Christian friends have had much happier lives and I no longer believe in an after life. I wish church leaders would get out of people's lives.

Posted by Brian Ralph at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 9:58pm BST

"Elder abuse is a pretext. If it weren't, they'd be demanding that the right to withdraw from treatment, equally open to coercion, be withdrawn."

Precisely. And for every case in which someone might be actively - oh, let's stop beating about the bush - killed were that to be legal, there will be, and already are, ten or a hundred people who die because pneumonia is left untreated, or because sufficient morphine to suppress pain also suppresses breathing, or because performing rib-cracking resus on 80 year olds is abuse, or any number of other way in which the last hour of life isn't extended with no concern about the quality of that hour.

If the claim is that people are being coerced into death, then all of that must stop. People must be given every and all "life saving" treatment, no matter how painful, no matter how awful the side effects, no matter how unlikely to succeed, in order to provide a guard rail against the slippery slope.

After the deaths of several of my relatives I have an advance directive to prevent this sort of pointless life extension, and I would refuse treatment or indeed refuse hospitalisation if I thought my directive would be disregarded. I'm planning to write into my will that any relative who attempts to overturn my advance directive is automatically disinherited. If that offends Justin Welby, then I am very grateful I am not a relative of his, to be kept in extended pain and distress at his behest.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 10:38pm BST

This is a true example of ecumenical co-operation which warms the heart, speaking out for human dignity.

Posted by robert ian williams at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 10:54pm BST

@ James Byron, "What lies behind this is religious dogma about only God having the right to take life. What scares Welby is people having agency over their own lives. Like all authoritarians, he wants to be in control, from who you sleep with, to how you die." Man, that's pretty sangfroid; but not an unfair comment when applied beyond personalities to organized religion as a structure.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 6 September 2015 at 11:16pm BST

A couple of nights ago, in Christchurch, New Zealand, my wife and I watched an out-dated (we have delayed transmissions of this English 'soap') of 'Coronation Street'. The dialogue between Roy and his trans-sexual wife, Hayley, gave marvellous insights into what it might mean for a couple, when one of them (Hayley in this instance) is given a sentence of death from aggressive cancer.

The point at issue was the 'right' of a person to decide when to end a life (their own life) that becomes too painful - not physically but emotionally and mentally - to extend the waiting time for unavoidable extinction.

While one can speak of the seeming blasphemy of ending one's own life - or, indeed, helping one's partner to obtain that relief - there is such a thing as the 'dignity of the individual' whose dearest wish is to quit life BEFORE it becomes a matter of mere existence, without positive and conscious participation.

An ethical situation indeed! But one in which sheer compassion might be given a look-in?

I don't very often agree with Lord Carey on matters of 'situation ethics'. But I find myself in agreement with him on this issue - despite having the greatest respect for the compassionate work of the Hospice movement.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 1:05am BST

I recall that David Steel's 1967 Abortion Act was originally protected by all sorts of provisions and provisos but it seems to me that in effect what we now have is abortion on demand. I fear that the same will happen with this Euthanasia Bill (I won't use the euphemistic "Assisted Dying").

Posted by Father David at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 7:26am BST

As a nurse, I see more than my share of deaths. Some deaths are as peaceful as a child falling asleep. Others are long, and distressing.

We already effectively have assisted death with 'do not resuscitate' instructions. In addition, as pointed out above, death can be ushered in by lack of resolve in treating pneumonia. Medical teams, in reality, do review the age, prospects, and whole situation, of a deteriorating patient.

I rarely get angry with God, I am quite passive like that. But occasionally, when I witness a lovely person's suffering and pain, and the sadness and distress of loved ones by their side, I do get angry with God. I have the same instinctive protest: 'Why?'

The other side of the coin is that I do actually believe that suffering is part of the human (and Divine?) condition, and that sometimes life is enriched through suffering, and dignified through suffering, but I know that comment may get howled down by protests.

I nursed my mother with severe dementia over a prolonged period, and it was at times heart-breaking, but I have to say, through the love she received from family and nurses, it was also an affirmation of her worth, her value, and - believe it or not - her dignity.

So I feel ambiguous about the whole issue, but speaking personally, if a person has mental capacity then I think in the end they should have the right to decide this issue for themselves. I think people should have the right to cut short their lives to avoid lengthy suffering.

It is a difficult subject. As a nurse, I will not positively assist anyone to die. That way leads to potentially insane decisions by a minority. However, withdrawal of treatment goes on all the time.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 10:25am BST

One other thing I omitted to say:

I sometimes see incredible selflessness from suffering patients. Their concern is 'the trouble I am putting people to'. They feel that they are causing relatives inconvenience, and out of love, they wish they were out of the way so their loved ones could be released of 'the burden'.

There is a real danger that 'right to die' may - in some cases - compound guilt and lead to people requesting it 'to stop causing trouble' to the people they love.

Personally, I still incline to individuals having that right (they already have the right to DNR) but I think the guilt aspect of family dynamics probably needs to be acknowledged... in worst cases promoted by unscrupulous relatives.

Sometimes people will elect for the right to die, not out of actual wish to depart this life - they may recover, or enjoy a supported life - but out of a sense of 'being a nuisance'.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 10:37am BST

Brian Ralph,

Missed your desolate post first time round. There are good arguments for an afterlife and I certainly believe it makes life better if one lives in that hope. And if one believes there is a God (and if your 'God-given' isn't just a metaphor), the hope becomes both more necessary and more plausible. I don't know where you live, but believe me most C of E churches nowadays happily accept gay people. And there are good priests - in this respect (and I would say in many others) vastly better than many bishops and similar worthies. As for other things, community activities and great music bring great comfort. Of course I agree with you that certain types of orthodox Christianity (and other religions) can cause great unhappiness.


Posted by John at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 10:51am BST

It is telling that the strong opposition to this bill from a number of disability rights organisations, and activists some of whom are atheists or agnostics, is almost completely ignored in mainstream debate. Of course some individual disabled people are in favour, just as there are women opposed to women's ordination. However the passionate opposition from many who already feel that their lives are devalued, and fear they will be at even greater risk, deserves to be taken seriously.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 12:02pm BST

What all the fuss about? The Swiss law on assisted suicide is simplicity itself, and we see no rush to oblivion in Switzerland. Indeed, those who think there is a slippery slope involved in assisted dying legislation owe us more than imagined scenarios. Nor is the outcome of abortion legislation germane. By what magic is so cruelly restrictive a piece of legislation as the one being proposed in Britain likely to lead to a slippery slope? Lord Carey changed his mind, but it was the desperation of Tony Nicklinson that changed it, even though that poor man would not have qualified for assistance under proposed legislation. Which means that the proposed legislation leaves out people who are likely to suffer more, and for a longer period, than those on the brink of dying.

I am an Anglican priest, a canon of All Saints Cathedral in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at the time of retirement I was an archdeacon. Since my wife's death at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich I have been deeply alienated from my church, since its only official document regarding assisted dying calls it a failure of community (abandonment, in brief). My wife Elizabeth died peacefully in my arms on 8 June 2007. She was almost entirely paralysed, and had suffered acute pain since the onset of Multiple Sclerosis in 1998. Refusing entrapment in her body, which was impending, she made the decision to go to Dignitas in Switzerland, where she was helped, with great kindness and compassion, to die.

It is simply unconscionable, in my view, that the church is so absurdly opposed to assisted dying, and the relief of otherwise irremediable suffering, making up scare-stories instead to justify its opposition. The scriptures do not oppose suicide, and, until Augustine, suicide and martyrdom were often indistinguishable. Read St. Ignatius' letters, whose burning desire to die in the arena, and his appeals to fellow believers not to deny him this privilege, make it clear that he intended to die even though he might have been saved. Remembering how cruelly the church treated suicides until recently, isn’t it about time we recognised that there are perfectly good Christian reasons to permit people to make their own choices about dying, and that, like Hans Küng, we may reasonably refuse to continue to live as mere shadows of ourselves. As the man said: “Ich will nicht als Schatten meiner selbst weiterexistieren.”

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 12:49pm BST

The comments by both Susannah Clark (nurse) and my colleague Eric MacDonald, written from different perspectives, are particularly compelling. A common denominator between the two is the role of experience in relationship to authority.

There is a very interesting set of stained glass windows in L'eglise Catholique St. Jean de La Salle, in Paris. A two light window near the end of the series presents the death of the Saint in very romantic terms. There he is, dying, holding up the cross, surrounded around his death bed by clergy and pious folks praying the Saint's soul into heaven. The church seems stuck, in some ways, in the pastoral and political assumptions one sees in that that window. There is more to caring for the dying than saying the rosary, reading the psalms, or offering a Rogerian response. What is required is a pastoral strategy that is more open to ambiguity, comfortable with the wide ranging experiences of the faithful, less focused on prohibition and taboo. Once the church has updated its pastoral approach to the dying, only then may we be in a position to enter into an effective public discourse.

For those who may be interested in the legal complexities from another Commonwealth Country, I've attached a link to the recent Supreme Court of Canada Judgment which struck down Canada's existing laws prohibiting physician assisted suicide. (The judgment is available on the SCC judgments webpage: but unless you know what to look for, not that easy to find.) The judgment is lengthy and exacting. It offers some valuable insight into most facets of this debate.

The Judgment introduction [1.(1)] reads, "people who are grievously and irremediably ill cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering. A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel."

The church must engage the questions of whether or not, and to what extent, doctrinaire assumptions may make us complicit in cruelty.

Just to complicate things, the church will require a pastoral response for health care providers, who are deeply divided on this issue.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 3:32pm BST

The Hayley case was very subtle..because it made it look so simple and sensible. In real life many vulnerable people feel obliged not to be a burden. Some of the stories coming out of Belgium are horrific.

Posted by robert ian williams at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 5:00pm BST

Savi, disability rights organizations, like the church, are guided by ideology: in their case, adherence to the social model of disability. They also protest against cures. "Care, not cure," is the slogan, as if we can't have both, and as if funding's a zero-sum game. The opposites of cure and euthanasia are both opposed out of a principled rejection of any suggestion that disability can be inherently negative.

As you rightly say, people with disabilities are not of one mind. Far from it: some disability rights activists can be downright vicious to disabled people who break the party line, whether it be rejecting the social model, advocating curative medicine, or supporting assisted suicide.

Disability rights has done much good in gaining equal treatment under the law, and in challenging prejudice against people with disabilities, but like any ideology, it has its dark side, doesn't speak for all disabled people, and its arguments against euthanasia, examined on their merits, don't withstand scrutiny, anymore than do Welby's.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 5:49pm BST

"This is a true example of ecumenical co-operation which warms the heart, speaking out for human dignity."

It may be the former, though that is no certain guarantee of doing the right thing, but surely human dignity carries within it a right to determine one's own fate to the fullest extent possible? In this light, religious authorities telling non-religious people what they may or may not do is the opposite of "human dignity."

Posted by Nathaniel Brown at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 6:29pm BST

Robert Ian Williams. Would it not be better to say that YOU are horrified by some of the stories coming out of Belgium? It would not be beyond the wit of humankind to change the Belgian law regarding assisted dying and euthanasia so as to avoid the circumstances you think are horrifying. This is not the inevitable result of assisted dying legislation, but is obviously something that the Belgians are prepared to take in their stride. It is non sequitur to argue that, because such things happen in Belgium, they are inevitably going to happen elsewhere. We will only let these things happen if we indeed think that such extensions of the law are justifiable, which apparently the Belgians do. It might be helpful if you told us what you were so horrified about.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 7 September 2015 at 8:32pm BST

Eric, what frightens me most about stories from Belgium is the number where the doctor makes the decision, not the patient and the stories about a lack of oversight or following their own rules. One state in the US that allows Assisted Suicide requires psychiatric assessment, but their own statistics show that it's not always done and that nobody's been turned away after the assessment, not one. I live in Montana, which is counted as an A.S. state by the media--what the court said was that they wouldn't hold the doctor liable for what the patient did, but the legislature hasn't been able to agree on rules, so it depends entirely on the doctor and patient, no rules, no oversight, no real statistics--and we already are at the top of the list for suicide in general and have a big problem with elder abuse--which is partly why the law never got passed. No matter how they put it, someone found a way around it that could be abused.

Posted by Chris H. at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 1:42am BST

"Eric, what frightens me most about stories from Belgium is the number where the doctor makes the decision, not the patient"

Why do you need to travel to Belgium for that? Doctors are perfectly at liberty to make "best interests" decisions in the UK which result inevitably in the patient's death. They with withhold treatment which would minimally extend life at great cost in pain. They administer pain relief which also hastens death. They decline to operate when the risks are high and the effects uncertain. To which of these do you object? Do you really want a return to people dying screaming because doctors are frightened that adequate pain relief will see them in legal trouble? Do you really want a return to 90 year olds having their ribs broken in futile resus, to pander to those that hold that "life is sacred"?

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 7:52am BST

I think if this bill is passed it will be very difficult to hold the line against repeated expansions of it, because the argument of the supporters of assisted dying/assisted suicide is about an individual's right to choose death. In the Netherlands, a group is now arguing that all Dutch people over 70 should have the right to assisted suicide ( And Dignitas assists healthy people to die (

Meanwhile, we've got a society in UK where people who are dying are being harassed to attend job interviews and disability hate crime is on the increase. A view of individual autonomous decisions which ignores such social pressures is completely inadequate. And the idea that there will be well-trained counsellors with ample time to weed out unsuitable demands for dying doesn't fit with what currently happens in the UK on assessments of abortions or on the needs/capacity of disability assessments. It's blanket approval or tick-boxes for those.

Posted by magistra at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 9:00am BST

California, my home state, is considering such legislation now. The bill is mostly considered Just Another Culture War issue, w/ conservative religious leaders lined up against it, and the GOP legislators following their lead (despite polls showing overwhelming public support, following the Brittany Maynard case). Because of the traditional influence of the RCC on Democratic Latino legislators, however, its passage is considered in doubt (no word from our RC ex-seminarian governor, Jerry Brown, about his position).

In my Sacramento-area Episcopal church, I've never heard one word about it, either for or against (make of that what you will).

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 9:15am BST

Because of the traditional influence of the RCC on Democratic Latino legislators, however, its passage is considered in doubt (no word from our RC ex-seminarian governor, Jerry Brown, about his position).
just a whif of no popery here?

Posted by ian at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 9:44am BST

We have all heard the rumours, and the rumours frighten us. Rumour usually does. Magistra cites one case from Dignitas, about which little is known, and then says: "Dignitas assists healthy people [plural] to die." We don't know how healthy or unhealthy Ms Pharoah was. The same refers to a movement in the Netherlands which is trying to change the law, suggesting that such a change is simply uncontrollable. Why doesn't he refer to the British group "Old Age Rational Suicide," which stands as much hope of being accepted by the British Parliament as a snowball in hell? These are just scare-mongering tactics. As for medical practices (especially in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium), this is an acknowledged cultural feature which is not likely to be reflected elsewhere, and Flemish Belgians do not seem to be concerned that medical decisions are commonly made by their medical professionals. Surprise, surprise!

Moreover, bureaucracy is universally derided for its occasional idiocies (like dying people being harassed to prove their inability to work), without showing that, first, they are unable to prove their case, or that such bureaucratic bungling will be ignored by health care providers, especially in a country that prides itself on its hospice care.

In addition, as Interested Observer points out, many medical practices lead to earlier death, when medical options run out, and physicians make decisions regarding treatment, continued life support, etc., and yet these practices are not surrounded with alarmed and alarming stories of industrial death.

The opposition to assisted dying is largely composed of 'anything goes' arguments, just so long as they paint assisted dying in huge CAUTION signs that will serve the purpose of scaring as many people as possible. Welby's 'arguments' for example, are composite of the tried and true scare stories, used by the religious to buttress their continued opposition, without disclosing their real reasons which carry no weight. It is a dismal comment on the dogmatism of religious opposition to assisted dying. Slippery slopes supposedly abound, and will continue to withhold peaceful death from people whose suffering has voided life of meaning. Ms Pharoah knew what was in store for her, with the pious fencing her deathbed round with empty talk about the dignity of life, regardless her considered opinion. As age creeps up on me, I understand her fears entirely, with so many examples ready to hand in this conversation.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 3:00pm BST

IO, when my state got pulled into the fracas, I researched Belgium's way of doing it. It sounds like some doctors are suggesting it, recommending it, and even performing euthanasia without family intervention or approval, in some cases for nothing more than depression. Do I want my doctor to decide I'm too old and depressed or my seriously ill child is too sick to live? No, but there are already people shaming others for not aborting Down's Syndrome babies, etc. and there will be people asking "Why live with _________?" Everything in the world can be abused/misused. In my own extended family there are those that would misuse it, fortunately, the ones whose deaths would have been convenient to others died before MT decided A.S. was legal or some probably would have pushed them towards it.

Posted by Chris H. at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 3:12pm BST

See, that's how it works: "It sounds like ...," followed by a series of suppositions, without any firm foundation. And what is that "nothing more than depression" doing here? When you are suffering intolerably, depression is rational behaviour. People talk knowingly of those who choose to die, due to their overwhelming suffering, as clinically depressed. What does such talk mean? Chris H "researched" assisted dying in Belgium, and then says: "It sounds like ..."! This is not the kind of conclusion that is reached via research. This is what is known as prejudice. And why should family approval be required, if someone has asked for assistance to die? I have told my daughter and son what I want, and they can like it or lump it. The choice, when it comes, will be mine, and I do not expect my doctor to ask for my family's approval, nor they to give it.

I really despair of the reasoning capacity of so many when faced with all the horror stories surrounding assisted dying. It seems to attract those who fear death more than they care about those who are suffering. Many people say that, since "terminal sedation" is available, there is no need for assisted dying. Just put someone into a coma and wait for them to die. The National Post (Canada's conservative national newspaper) has just come out with this as an option to a painful death, yet my wife might have continued in misery for ten years or more. And I fear terminal sedation most of all, to be a senseless log being "cared" for by others, who pat themselves on the back for being so compassionate! I like the motto of New Hampshire, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Stop with the horror stories. When you study them, they turn out to be rumours. "It just sounds like ..." The classic strategy of those who fear death, more than they know about assisted dying, or care about the suffering.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 4:46pm BST

"Do I want my doctor to decide I'm too old and depressed or my seriously ill child is too sick to live? No"

So should parents be able to demand futile and painful treatment indefinitely, without any regard for the interests of the child?

You might find this paper interesting:

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 5:46pm BST

Eric, thank you for your well argued and compassionate comments here and for your constructive attempts to dispel fear.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 6:21pm BST

Seconded, Erika. :-)

Like Eric, I'm a live free or die kinda guy, and that extends to being imprisoned by an intolerable degree of suffering and incapacity. (What's intolerable? Whatever I decide it is.) I've the right to decide what happens to me, and so too do my loved ones.

Those who disagree, I respect your right to follow your own path; but you've no right to impose your choices on me, anymore than I'd have, or want, the right to impose mine on you.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 7:10pm BST

Thank you, Erika. And thanks to James Byron for very generously not pointing out that I got the New Hampshire slogan wrong -- it's printed on all the license plates! -- which is: "Live Free or Die!" It was Patrick Henry who said, "Give me Liberty or give me Death!"

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 8 September 2015 at 8:59pm BST

@ Eric "It was Patrick Henry who said, 'Give me Liberty or give me Death!' "

Yes, and if you visit St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va. , you may be treated to a re-enactment by one of the tour guides there. Our tour guide/re-enactor claimed Patrick Henry made a very dramatic speech, acting out a feigned self stabbing motion to his chest with a letter opener.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 9 September 2015 at 12:07am BST

They can't unite to *condemn* the causes of suffering, but faith leaders sure can come together to ensure suffering continues.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 9 September 2015 at 11:53am BST

It's easy to see assisted dying only as shortening life.

The present situation places people in an awful dilemma: commit suicide now while still healthy enough to do so, or live for as many years as are bearable but knowing that by the time life becomes intolerable that an exit through suicide might no longer be possible. All too often those who choose an assisted death are judged as "having given up" when maybe a more charitable response might be to applaud their bravery in clinging to life as long as they did given their circumstances.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 10 September 2015 at 5:55am BST

I worry that the church is backsliding. The role of the church is not to control, not to judge, but to teach. Rather than trying to block the Bill, for me the correct role of the church is in articulating the moral issues involved both for Christians, and more generally for society as a whole.

Many wanted Jesus to stand as a Messiah against Roman rule, to interfere in civil jurisdiction. That was the perceived role of a messiah before Jesus taught otherwise. And that is the key word, "taught". He taught people how to approach making mortal decisions for themselves. He moved the Covenant from the Law of the Old Testament to requiring us all to think.

I think most people will see this issue as a moral balancing exercise between risks and benefits on both sides of the argument. As Christ trusted us to make our own choices by teaching mostly in parables, I wish the bishops would trust us all to make our own choices, and teach us what we should consider not dogmatically dictate an outcome which, whether they support the Bill or reject it, must inevitably be wrong in some situations because this is an issue of shades of grey, not one of black and white.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 10 September 2015 at 6:55am BST

@James Byron

"I have the right to decide what happens to me..."

The reason though why this is so difficult an issue is that while personal choice is a major reason for passing the Bill, it is also a major reason why passing the bill might be wrong. We are being asked to balance your right to choose to die against the risk that someone else will be manoeuvred or pressured out of their equally valid choice to live.

Equally is it right to allow someone to choose to die when ill (and therefore potentially without proper deliberation) but deny the choice to someone in perfect health who wishes to die? At what level if the former's choice more valid than the latter especially when someone in perfect health might be better placed to make a balanced decision than someone with a progressive or terminal condition?

For me, if one works through the issues, "personal choice" isn't something which guides us either way to a decision whether assisted dying should of should not be permitted.

As Christians, all we should be doing IMO is approaching each and every case with love and compassion both for the individual concerned but also for their family and friends. No blanket approach, but one tailored to the circumstances of each case.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 10 September 2015 at 7:19am BST

It seems to me that it is the people who are better at creating theology than the professionals. Once more the people are completely out of line with the church. Who was it who said in a political context that you should change the people?

The slippery slope argument is completely fallacious. It's used against all social change. Most recently in the same sex marriage debate. Spain has had same sex marriage for ten years. How many have married their dog or their car there? It's an argument used by timid and frightened people who see their world and their certainties changing around them and don't know how to stop it.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 10 September 2015 at 10:21am BST

@ Kate, who wrote: "As Christians, all we should be doing IMO is [to approach] each and every case with love and compassion both for the individual concerned but also for their family and friends. No blanket approach, but one tailored to the circumstances of each case."

And how on earth do you do that, except through legislation? Or do you think we should decide for other people case by case? And how do we do this? By legislating against assisted dying? And then, like the C of E's "Dying Well" we can recommend that doctors disobey the law in what they judge to be extreme cases, and the General Medical Council would look on this with compassion. This is how things are now.

But why should a person's disease prescribe how they must die? Right now, if we are sick, we seek medicines and surgeries to relieve suffering, by providing a remedy. Why not when only death will bring relief? Why is this so different from taking an aspirin for a headache? Only the myth that since God gives life only God can take it away. Do Christians really believe this?! If God kills us, then what is to say that we have not saved ourselves by curing a disease by which God intended that we should die? (John Donne made this point.) Disease should not prescribe the manner of death, since it does not (in other cases) prescribe the manner of treatment. And if only death will relieve our suffering, why should we not seek to die?

And this is why assisted dying does not include those who are healthy, for assisted dying is about suffering that cannot be relieved by any known means that would be acceptable to the person who is suffering. Trust someone to suggest that this includes everyone, whatever their condition! Then we can say, as the religious continually do, that such legislation is dangerous. However, the challenge is: Give one good theological argument for prohibiting assisted dying. And Locke's "We belong to God" is not a good theological argument. Nor is Rowan Williams' argument that all religious people believe that all and any suffering can be lived through in trust and hope. Why does he not apply the same argument to a toothache?

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 10 September 2015 at 1:15pm BST

Thank you, Eric, for your persistent common sense. It seems, sometimes, that theologians have every other sense but common sense. Human dignity requires the use of the faculties that God has given us - as individuals.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 11 September 2015 at 1:25am BST

I am sorry the vote didn't go the way you hoped.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 11 September 2015 at 4:49pm BST

Eric, I put the qualifier in because I'm not a citizen of Belgium, so have no right to make absolute statements. While you find people who qualify things unbearable, I find people who are absolute in their opinions the same. Do you really find none of the examples about what's going on over there at all troubling? Or are you really just advocating for the legalization of all suicide? In your reasoning is there any reason not to help someone die? Are there any limits that should apply?

Posted by Chris H. at Saturday, 12 September 2015 at 1:20am BST

"Give me liberty or give me death" Indeed. Unlike Westminster, looks like The State Legislature in California has decided you can have both.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 12 September 2015 at 4:11am BST

Kate, thanks, but I never thought the legislation would pass. Politicians are often moved by horror stories, and have not given assisted dying the consideration it deserves, voting their emotions instead.

Chris, the qualifier was there because you really don't know. From a distance, there may be cases that trouble you, but in general we do not know the specifics of the cases, which are hyped by the news. Since opposition to assisted dying is so strong, this leads people to say exactly what you said: "It sounds as if..."

Take as example, Oregon, in the US, where few requesting assistance have been sent for psychiatric examination. The law does not require it, but suggests that it should be done when in doubt. This is often exaggerated into a slippery slope. But Oregonians who qualify must have a six month terminal prognosis. As I have said, in such a case, talking about clinical depression doesn't make a lot of sense, and the people concerned are, on average, well educated, accustomed to taking charge, etc. So, why the alarm - especially as a fair percentage of those who ask for a lethal prescription do not use the drugs?

In addition, my position is not absolute. There are situations of despair which require psychiatric treatment. But clinical depression, often irremediable,should qualify for assisted dying, since such depression results in a chronic form of misery from which there is no escape, and it is quite clear that those with depression are in general not cognitively impaired. A person who qualifies for assisted dying must have a durable decision, must be suffering (in the view of the person concerned, intolerably, and in medical terms, irremediably), and must have at least some objective markers of that suffering (whether or not everyone so afflicted would make this choice). I am not in a position to judge regarding individual cases in Belgium. The Daily Mail speaks of figures "soaring from 1,133 to 1,432, a figure representing about two per cent of all deaths in the country." This doesn't sound like "soaring" to me, and there is no reason why Belgian officials could not step in if they find the circumstances suspect.

Rod, I'm not sure why assisted dying has such hard sledding in England, but I think it is associated with religion, and perhaps with the establishment of the Anglican Church.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 12 September 2015 at 2:03pm BST

@ Eric, "I'm not sure why assisted dying has such hard sledding in England, but I think it is associated with religion, and perhaps with the establishment of the Anglican Church."

How much has it to do with religion and the C of E? As an outsider I'm left wondering. The story put out by BBC ( see link) indicates that judges keep throwing the issue back to parliament.

If parliament were the final voice in Canada, we might be in a situation very similar to the U.K. The difference is that Canada has the Constitution and the Charter. Yet, we are a country where the churches are effectively a rump when it comes to public policy influence.

Quebec is moving forward with guidelines for assisted suicide in a clinical situation; but medically assisted active euthanasia requires willing attending physicians.

According to the Canadian Medical Association,
"29 per cent of doctors surveyed said that if they refused to help a patient die, they should not be required to refer them to another doctor, while 42 per cent were in favour of some type of referral procedure."

The debate produces an intense existential dilemma i.e. the right of the suffering to end their own life versus the rights of physicians who are not willing sign off on the medical order.

The church will have members in both circumstances. The church has an obligation to care for and pastor both groups.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 13 September 2015 at 3:09pm BST

just a whif of no popery here?
Posted by: ian

This seems to be directed at me (I'm quoted), but I really don't know what you mean, ian. [Remember that I'm a (U.S.) American, so certain phrases may not have the same resonance.]

As RodG noted above, the California legislation passed, and has been sent to Governor Brown for his signature (signed into law OR vetoed). We still have no idea what he will do. [Full-disclosure: I'm in favor, but not passionately so. I think palliative care *should* accomplish the task of a pain-free passing, but I understand why some may wish to (reasonably, w/o coercion) accelerate their own dying process.]

Posted by JCF at Monday, 14 September 2015 at 7:08am BST

Rod, I'm not altogether sure what you are trying to say. I do not find it surprising that the Canadian Medical Association is divided on the issue, and no doubt the church must care for both those who favour assisted dying and those who do not. But, as for existential dilemmas, I am sure that the suffering come first, and doctors will eventually recognise this. Those who, for religious reasons, refuse to refer their patients to other physicians who will carry out their wishes, are, in my view, as I said before, defending their own rights while denying the rights of others. It is not particularly edifying. However, those who favour assisted dying, and would like it for themselves should they be so situated, will solve these doctors' problems for them. They will choose doctors who are not so bound by conscience. I will certainly be on the lookout for those who would contravene my wishes in an extreme situation, and give them fairly wide berth. However, I am not particularly concened with doctors' ethical dilemmas. These are things they must sort out for themselves, and live with the consequences. I think some doctors who are now opposed to assisted dying will come to see that it is a perfectly reasonable medical option. Those whose ethical dogmatism will not permit them to assist or refer, will soon find themselves with a select group of like-minded patients. I worry, however, about those in remote locations who are faced with a doctor who refuses to assist or to refer. The rights of such patients must not be ignored, and situations of this sort must be detected and a remedy provided.

As to why English judges refuse to defend the rights of citizens, simply returning issues to a Parliament whose position can be known in advance, is anyone's guess, though a study of English Supreme Court judges might provide at least part of an answer. That the Church of England is represented in the House of Lords, and takes a well-known position on the issue (notwithstanding Lord Carey's change of mind), is probably enough still to determine the outcome of votes in Parliament.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 14 September 2015 at 2:34pm BST

@ Eric, "Rod, I'm not altogether sure what you are trying to say." I'm testing the notion that the vote in the British Parliament is, as you wrote, the result of, or significantly " ...associated with religion, and perhaps with the establishment of the Anglican Church." I would be interested to hear opinions on that from folks who live in the U.K.

Further to the point implied in my question, I'm testing your view by noting that in Canada, where religious influence, In my opinion, would be negligible on public policy, a vote in parliament here under the current Tory Harper majority would have resulted in a similar outcome. The difference here is that The Supreme Court has struck down legislation based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I'll split off the issue about physicians and conscience and deal with it separately.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 14 September 2015 at 4:30pm BST

@ Eric, "Those whose ethical dogmatism will not permit them to assist or refer, will soon find themselves with a select group of like-minded patients."

While ethical dogmatism exists, a principled aversion to participating the ending of the life of someone else is not necessarily ethical dogmatism.

I included the link ( previous post)to the article about the Canadian Medical Association for two reasons. (1) It indicates that once legislated prohibition against assisted dying is removed or relaxed, the locus of the debate then shifts to a discourse about competing or conflicting values among the major stakeholders. (2) While one's experience of immense suffering (either one's own or that of another)gives one a huge stake in outcomes, those who will be asked to take the very intimate step of actively ending the life another now have a huge ethical stake in outcomes as well. It is equally important to hear from the latter and reflect ethically and/or theologically on that as well.

Saskatoon hematologist Shelia Harding who strongly opposes doctor-assisted deaths is quoted as follows in the CBC article:

"I think it is essential for the moral character of medicine that for physicians to be able to practise according to conscience. To ask physicians to park that at the door in some circumstances is to disable them. Our patients benefit when we are people of integrity. If we are required to squelch that, it does our patients harm in the long term,"

Negative characterizations of physicians opposed in principle to ending the life another is not substantially different than a negative characterization of suffering persons who choose assisted dying. In any event, I'm hopeful there can be a debate not just about doctors, but a conversation that includes doctors.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 14 September 2015 at 5:48pm BST

Rod, you separated your response into two. I will try to deal with them together. I believe that the reason that the Canadian Parliament steers clear of assisted dying, and has regularly defeated proposed bills on first or second reading has much more to do with politicians looking over their shoulders towards religious people in their constituencies. The repetition of phrases, in what passes for debate, such as 'sanctity of life', 'all life has dignity', and so forth seems to indicate this, as well as the faithful parroting of the Roman Catholic "secular" arguments which are used as place holders for religious objections, including "culture of death" talk. That is my own perception.

I do in fact think that much opposition from doctors is based in a kind of dogmatic ethics, usually religious in origin. I acknowledge that others may differ from this, and doubtless doctors need the opportunity to engage in a forthright discussion of this issue. I certainly do not want doctors to act contrary to their convictions, but I do not want them to have convictions that are poorly grounded either. Very few physicians have much knowledge of the bioethics lying behind the widespread approval (amongst bioethicists) of assisted dying, but the discussion they hold should be not only thoughtful but informed.

Naturally, physicians should be able to practice medicine with their integrity intact, and I did not suggest otherwise, but I hope that, in seeking to do so, they will more deeply acquaint themselves with moral argument, and why, for example, the Royal Society of Canada came to the conclusions that it did. Rehashing Evangelium Vitae simply won't do. Also concerning is the number of Roman Catholic organisations with no evident connexion with the church posing as informed sources. However, I am not suggesting that I or anyone else should govern what and how physicians discuss this issue, and how they conceive of their integrity being engaged by the issues. Nevertheless, I am also concerned that this discussion not put assisted dying (ruled by the Supreme Court to be a right of Canadians) out of reach of Canadians, thus forcing them to die in ways they would not choose. If we need specialists (proposed by philosopher AC Grayling) to provide assistance, so be it, but suffering people should not be held to ransom by the moral integrity of physicians.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 14 September 2015 at 11:47pm BST

@ Eric, this thread is winding long and the article has moved down the story line up. So this will be my last comment. No doubt the issue will be back here and elsewhere.

While no longer de rigueur in some circles, I'm one of those persons who argues for the vitality of meta narratives. I actually subscribe to the notion of the "sanctity of life" as articulated within the Christian view of things. Sadly, it is a notion more often honored by Christendom in the breach than in the observance. The notion of sanctity of life is an important counter-cultural perspective to the materialism, consumerism, and "technologism" of our time.

With regard to assisted dying, as a citizen in a democracy I support the way the issue is delineated by, for example, the recent SCC judgement. As a member of a community of faith I expect that community to respond to the nuances of an individuals's predicament, not with the pontifical reflex, but with dynamic pastoral care and compassion. I expect the church in this new context to develop ways (it does not currently have them) to effectively minister to those persons who while in a sound state of mind choose to avail themselves of a legal option to end the unbearable physical suffering of a terminal illness.

One of the things this debate in general, and our exchanges in particular, has done, is assist me with a kind of re-appreciation of some aspects of a catholic position on these things in terms of both its limitations and sagacity. While I have no time for the authoritarian clericalism of Roman Catholic polity, on matters of theology I would say, just because they have gotten some things wrong, does not mean that they don't have something right. The notion of the sanctity of life is something they have right, even though its development in pastoral practice remains arrested.

Not completely off topic, I will close with a link to this article titled, How Liberation Theology Can Inform Public Health by Paul Farmer, a physician and Roman Catholic.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 15 September 2015 at 6:50pm BST

Well, Rod, since you have said this is your last comment, that gives me the last word!

I have to admit that I do not know what the 'sanctity of life' means, but one thing that has customarily accompanied this concept is that life is strictly inviolable, and therefore points towards what in ethics is called vitalism, that life is a supreme value, full stop; which accounts for the arrested development you speak of.

However, we know, considering the justification of war and execution (which have both received the imprimatur of the Magisterium, though capital punishment has now been ruled out), that human life is not inviolable, and so, I assume, not sacred. I simply think that the idea of the sanctity of life is confused, and is generally applied selectively to bolster some ethical positions and to weaken others.

I think what is sacred (if anything is) are the life plans, hopes and expectations, along with the choices to bring these about, of individuals in community. This is what accords them dignity as well. And an individual's decision, because of irremediable and intolerable suffering, to seek assisted dying trumps sanctity often enough to void the word of any substantial meaning (and not only, I should add, as you say, the "option to end the unbearable physical suffering of a terminal illness", which unacceptably limits the SCC's judgement in Carter, which I think got it right). Indeed, I think that the continued use of the idea of the sanctity of life is confusing and misleading, since it almost always leads to an ethical dogmatism regarding what individuals may and may not choose, and is, for example, widely used in Catholic circles to forbid abortion under any circumstances.

While no one could justly oppose groups such as Partners in Health and its preferential option for the poor, and its application around the world, it seems clear that it is, in fact, an organisation based on essentially Catholic principles, and it is hard not to relate it to some of the inhuman things that are being done in the name of the church to people in places like El Salvador, Ireland or even Poland by organisations that hold strictly to ‘sanctity of life’ principles (like many Catholic hospitals in the US). Indeed, in countries where the 'sanctity of life' principle is applied in law, the consequences are often dire.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 16 September 2015 at 2:31pm BST

@ Eric, not a comment on the issue, nor a rejoinder to your final word, but more of an observation on where we leave things, for now.

I've read the SCC judgement in its entirety, carefully. My periphrastic wording on the issue globally notwithstanding ( I get your point), I think the SCC judgement got it right in terms of what they were asked to decide. So, in terms of the SCC judgement specifically, we concur. Clearly, we not in agreement on, among other things, the role of Roman Catholic theology in relation to public discourse.

You were candid enough to share where you are with the church in your initial post i.e. " I am an Anglican priest, a canon of All Saints Cathedral in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at the time of retirement I was an archdeacon. Since my wife's death at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich I have been deeply alienated from my church .."

Perhaps it is not inappropriate for me to say
(to perhaps clue in others here) that I am a retired priest and canon in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and served there as an archdeacon for about a decade. Not alienated from the church, I continue to be a practicing Anglican, usually to be found perched somewhere on the "phylogenetic tree" of Anglo-Catholicism.

I converted to Anglicanism from Roman Catholicism as an undergrad in 1975. I have retained a strong interest in catholic social teaching and transcendental Thomism coupled with a strong aversion to authoritarianism in church polity, especially in our Anglican Communion. Not estranged from the church, but most definitely continually trying to respond to God's call to be a gadfly.

Thanks for this, ciao, -Rod

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 16 September 2015 at 7:02pm BST

@ Rod "Clearly, we not in agreement on, among other things, the role of Roman Catholic theology in relation to public discourse."

I don't wish to drag this out beyond reason, but it seems to me that the role of Roman Catholic theology in relation to public discourse must find the SCC's decision in Carter completely contrary to Catholic social teaching. Which is why I took such exception to Laudatio Si, where demographic considerations follow the pattern of Catholic social teaching regarding things like procreation, the essentially procreative role of the sexual act, the condemnation of contraception and abortion, and, more fundamentally, the core principle of Catholic social doctrine, expressed by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (in its Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine) thus:

"Promoting human dignity implies above all affirming the inviolability of the right to life, from conception to natural death, the first among all rights and the condition for all other rights of the person. (553)"

It follows that the decision in Carter violates the foundational right which grounds all rights of the person - a very dangerous position which effectively undermines all rights talk not so grounded. This being the core of Catholic social teaching 'tis hard not to reproach its dogmatism and intrusiveness, especially when it claims that "[t]he principle of autonomy involves respect for every religious confession on the part of the State," and then condemns, as an expression of secular intolerance, the fact that "[t]hese attitudes even go so far, and radically so, as to deny the basis of a natural morality. (572)" - a position in moral philosohy surely not binding on State legislatures.

It is wrong that respect for autonomy "involves respect for every religious confession on the part of the State." What the State provides is a guarantee of religious freedom within the limits of the law. The state should not express respect for any religious confession, but simply guarantee that citizens can practice their faith freely so long as such freedom does not contravene laws properly established (viz., without particular reference to individual religious confessions).

My opposition to the relationship between Catholic doctrine and public discourse finds its leverage here, for separation of Church and State is not honoured by Catholic claims and (at least some of) its interventions in public affairs (as when Catholic politicians are threatened with excommunication for voting contrary to Catholic doctrine).

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 17 September 2015 at 5:38pm BST

@ Eric, one of us has to have the last word on this spent thread, so it may as well be you. There will no doubt be a rematch at some point, some where, perhaps even here. tks again, -Rod

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 17 September 2015 at 10:52pm BST
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