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…