Thinking Anglicans

Faith leaders unite to condemn assisted dying law

Twenty four British faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have today called for Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill not to be enacted.

From the Archbishop’s website

Assisted Dying Bill: Archbishop signs faith leaders’ statement

Wednesday 16th July 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby today joins over 20 British faith leaders calling for Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill not to be enacted.

In a joint statement ahead of the House of Lords debate on Friday, the faith leaders said that if passed the bill would have “a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.”

This is followed by the full text of the statement and a list of all the signatories.

Press reports on opinions about the bill include:

John Bingham The Telegraph Religious leaders unite to condemn assisted dying law

Andrew Brown The Guardian Church of England split over assisted dying as debate looms

Denis Campbell and Dominic Smith The Guardian Assisted dying: leading doctors call on Lords to back legalisation

We reported earlier on the views of George Carey and Justin Welby.

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Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

So, just as over the same sex marriage issue, they are completely out of touch of what society at large now believes. How extraordinary to find Desmond Tutu and George Carey on the same side of the argument against all the rest.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“So, just as over the same sex marriage issue, they are completely out of touch of what society at large now believes.”

Actually, it more obviously out of touch than for the same sex marriage issue. The polling for well-conducted studies is about 70/30 in favour

http://yougov.co.uk/news/2012/07/05/support-doctor-assisted-suicide/
http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/events/programme_events/show/press_release_westminster_faith_debate_6_should_we_legislate_to_permit_assisted_dying

I suppose that having finally decided to surrender on women bishops, and realising that a last-ditch defence of homophobia is going to end badly, Welby now wants another doomed cause to help him feel martyred over.

Pluralist
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In general Unitarians support the legislation (obviously not everyone).

David Keen
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David Keen

If we got in touch with ‘what society now believes’ we’d be backing capital punishment too. Society can be wrong. The polling results might have something to do with the thoroughly one-sided account of the debate provided by the BBC in recent years.

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

I do not think this divides on the usual fault lines.
I have spent decades trying to persuade people NOT to commit suicide, and worked for nine years with desperately ill babies and terminally ill children.
As I have said on an earlier thread, I do not recognise this as a free choice, suicide is always as a result of coercion of one form or another. There are a few very hard cases, but they do not make good law.

James Byron
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James Byron

If coercion were the real concern, you’d see an equally vehement campaign to end a patient’s right to withdraw from treatment. You don’t, so it isn’t. This is about religious leaders demanding that others suffer for their beliefs. The arrogance and condescension that goes into comments like this beggars belief: “The bill raises the issue of what sort of society we wish to become: one in which life is to be understood primarily in terms of its usefulness and individuals evaluated in terms of their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at… Read more »

rjb
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rjb

It should be worrying to the church when it is obviously disengaged from the priorities and beliefs of society at large, but it doesn’t follow from this that the church should meekly follow whatever happens to be the prevailing fashion of our culture. If some conservatives and evangelicals go too far in stressing the opposition between “Christ and culture,” some liberals seem to go much too far the other way. If the church is to support gay marriage it must be because we can develop a specifically Christian theological response to the question of gay marriage (which I think we’re… Read more »

Geoff
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Geoff

This is a matter of current conscience for us in Québec also. While I adhere broadly to a consistent life ethic, no one has the right to decide for me when Enough is Enough.

John
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John

Discussed this recently with a distinguished academic friend suffering from Parkinson’s. He thought that such legislation would inevitably follow the trajectory of the 1960s abortion bill: notwithstanding (rjb style) all the apparent safeguards, there’d be far too much of the practical phenomenon.

robert Ian williams
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robert Ian williams

Unitarians are not Christians..they don’t believe in the Holy Trinity.

MarkBrunson
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It’s terribly hard to control peoples’ lives and make them give you money when they’re dead. Then, they just go on to God, and – let’s be honest – He doesn’t seem to give a hang about the stuff that is vital to those who’ve spent their lives trying to become dominant in the variou ecclesial structures. When they’re dead, they’re out of your control.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

” Likewise, if the church is to support assisted dying” What the church’s own members want to do is their business. As with the old joke about same-sex marriage (“how to avoid same-sex marriage: don’t marry someone of the same sex”) it’s entirely up to people how they wish to behave in this regard. However, what the church wants to do both with same-sex marriage and with assisted dying is to deny everyone something just because it is rejected by (some of) their own members. Catholics allegedly disapprove of contraception (although it doesn’t appear to stop them from using it)… Read more »

Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente
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I keep seeing sentences like: ‘it must be because we can develop a specifically Christian theological response to the question of gay marriage’, secular people only seeing people ‘in terms of usefulness’… etc. Why should there be such a peculiar Christian version of ethics? Why even assume that ethics are a matter of revelation, something that would otherwise escape our comprehension. It blatantly is not, the church is not necessarily called to be ‘countercultural’, just good.

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

I do not agree with James Byron’s analogy , but I was impressed today by the voices of disabled people arguing against the Bill. We have two disabled lads and in the past have seen medication used inappropriately to silence kids like ours.
The law should stay as it is.

James Byron
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James Byron

Couldn’t agree more, Interested Observer & Lorenzo. 🙂

Theology should play no part in secular law. If church representatives lack a good secular argument against a law, they ought to abstain, not impose their theology on everyone else.

I particularly agree with Lorenzo’s point about the false separation between Christian and secular ethics. Demanding a theological argument is a ghetto mentality. Good arguments are good arguments, period. What’s sauce for the goose …

Jamie
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Jamie

The faith leaders’ statement is exactly that, a faith leaders’ statement. It’s particularly impressive to have New Testament Church of God, Elim, Assemblies of God, Church of God of Prophecy, lined up alongside so many other more traditional Christian denominations and a very wide variety of other faiths. So any suggestion that “Welby wants another doomed cause” or reference to “the CofE’s mistake” isn’t supported by the evidence. There are 23 other signatures on this statement above the archbishop’s, 23 people who won’t hesitate to tell him they disagree with him if they do disagree with him. So while no… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Welby and his camp followers will probably win this one, Jamie. Their scaremongering has set even the ‘Guardian’ to fright, and they’ve made common cause with some prominent disability rights campaigners. (With whom I have far more sympathy, although I still believe they’re wrong about assisted suicide.) The coercion argument plays a lot better than their previous nonsense about the destruction of marriage. It’ll be a pyrrhic victory, storing up resentment for religion in general. It shouldn’t, as the theological argument (if we must have one) best supports euthanasia. Here, the ancients had it right. Life is sanctified more by… Read more »

Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente
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Jamie, with affection, I don’t see aligning ourselves with fundamentalist churches and African pentecostalists, who also like their Bible quite literal, as very impressive. The evidence is that, bar Muslims (and possibly these churches) between two thirds and three quarters of mainstream Catholics, Anglicans, Jews… are in favour of the bill. Those of no faith are overwhelmingly in favour too.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

What will happen if it remains illegal is far, far more risky than legalising it. In Oregon, less than 80 people a year use the provision [1]. 33 thousand people per year die, 25 thousand of them over 65 [2] . So the rate of use of the provision is very low: about one in three hundred deaths of those other sixty five (I’m guessing most users of the provision are over 65, I might be wrong). Anecdotally, knowledge that the option is there reassures people who don’t, in the end, use it. Certainly my intention as I get older… Read more »

Sara MacVane
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Sara MacVane

The state of Oregon has had a similar law for sometime now (10 years?). It would be interesting to hear from some people lving there, but I believe I heard that very few people actually use it. I don’t really think that the law as expressed in this bill will put vulnerable people at risk. The limitation to those with only a very short time left to live seems to exclude ‘pressure on the incapacitated’ – to me at least.

Andrew Wilshere
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Andrew Wilshere

I’ve said this on another thread already, but there is a consistent failure amongst religious leaders and commenters to distinguish between what is good, and what is a person’s right. Suppose we accept, for the sake of argument, that suicide and assisted suicide are always morally bad or wrong. It simply does not follow that individuals should therefore not have the right to make their own decision about whether and when to end their life. Those who deny that individuals have this natural right in fact simply transfer that right to decide to some other individual — such as a… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“there is a consistent failure amongst religious leaders and commenters to distinguish between what is good, and what is a person’s right” The Church of England was one of the key groups that supported the 1961 Suicide Act, which at last stopped the practice of jailing people for attempting to kill themselves. The 1959 publication of “Ought Suicide to Be A Crime? A Discussion of Suicide, Attempted Suicide and the Law” by the church marked a substantial shift in its position. But the debate at the time — within, of course, the adult lifetime of many of the people now… Read more »

John
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John

I’m with Martin on this. I think any such legislation is eventually dangerous. It’s not as if there isn’t great practical latitude as it is (‘turning people off’, etc.).

Tobias Haller
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Not being entirely familiar with the English rules, I wondered if under the current law patients with terminal illnesses or conditions are permitted to refuse hydration and nutrition, in addition to refusing medical interventions and therapies? This is the case in New York.

My reason for asking is that in this whole conversation I’m a bit hazy about what is held to constitute “suicide” from a moral perspective.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

John,
“(‘turning people off’, etc.).”
isn’t going to happen.

Did you see the BMJ editorial that explains this again?
http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4349

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

I agree with Martin. I believe that in the present circumstances, with widespread prejudice against disabled people, especially those judged ‘useless’ e.g. because they are too sick to work, and health and social services under huge strain, legalising assisted dying would be unhelpful. High-quality palliative care can be extremely effective in preventing suffering in most cases, though sadly this is not made available to everyone who could benefit from it, and I think changing this should be a priority. With regard to the law, Tobias, I believe it is lawful for people with mental capacity to refuse medication and nutrition.… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

I have the same questions as Tobias. In the US, we can make choices that relate to not “prolonging the dying process”. For example, we can refuse hydration, oxygen, and feeding tubes for ourselves, and for our loved ones, if we have a medical power of attorney (POA). Hospice is increasingly popular, and my experience of their palliative care is excellent. In the US, it is pretty important that ill people have an advocate, like a family member. If I thought for an instant that either of my parents weren’t getting the relief from pain that they needed, I could… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

Thanks for the answers. I’m simply trying to get at the ethics behind the thinking on both sides and I see an inconsistency between allowing a person to choose to die by a slow but “natural” process of not taking hydration or nutrition, as opposed to a quick but “artificial” process of taking — at one’s own hand — a sedative overdose. I wonder if somewhere in all of this there is a residual of the “suffering as virtue” meme — that is, that the hardenss of death by starvation, and the fact that the actual moment of death is… Read more »

John
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John

Erika,

You misunderstand me. ‘Turning people off’ happens NOW, quite frequently. I do not object to it in principle (obviously, circumstances are crucial). Legislation allowing it introduces a different dimension.