Faith leaders unite: Assisted Dying Bill is a "grave error"
His (present) Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby often gets it in the neck, not least from some of His (former) Grace's more uncharitable communicants. Even when he makes a speech in robust defence of traditional marriage and orthodox Christian morality, he is mercilessly mocked and reviled for "caving in" or "betrayal" when he expounds a realistic understanding of the constitutional limitations of his office. His mind doesn't change; nor does the gospel. But, unless they are under a specific spiritual or political authority, there is no point banging people over the head if they dissent. One must simply agree to disagree.
Archbishop Justin has now joined more than 20 British faith leaders who are calling for Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill not to be enacted. It is absolutely the right thing to do. His message is, again, refreshingly unequivocal and uncompromising. In a joint statement ahead of the House of Lords debate, these principal representatives of all faiths are united in their opposition. They write:
As leaders of faith communities, we wish to state our joint response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. We do so out of deep human concern that if enacted, this bill would have a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.Doubtless Canon Rosie Harper takes the view that all of these holy and learned men (for men they all are), by exhorting Their Lordships to vote against the Bill, are lacking in compassion or some basic theological understanding. Doubtless she feels that even His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols and His Grace the Most Rev Justin Welby are "personally requiring other people to suffer extreme agony on behalf of (their) own consciences", which, she avers, is "neither moral nor Christian". Doubtless she will (again) take His Grace's challenge as an "unpleasant and personal" attack, when it is nothing but an appeal for her to humble herself before God and acknowledge that opposition to this profoundly flawed Bill may be motivated by highly moral and profoundly Christian motives.
Every human life is of intrinsic value and ought to be affirmed and cherished. This is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error. The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others’ lives, in effect colluding in the judgment that they are of no further value. This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society.
Vulnerable individuals must be cared for and protected even if this calls for sacrifice on the part of others. Each year many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers. Being perceived as a burden or as a financial drain is a terrible affliction to bear, leading in many cases to passivity, depression and self-loathing. The desire to end one’s life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is ‘rational’ does not do justice to the facts. The Assisted Dying Bill can only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people will feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.
A key consideration is whether the Assisted Dying Bill will place more vulnerable people at risk than it seeks to help. We have seen, in recent years that even rigorous regulation and careful monitoring have not prevented the most serious lapses of trust and care in some parts of the NHS and within a number of Care Homes. It is naïve to believe that, if assisted suicide were to be legalised, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.
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 times, they fail to cherish themselves. While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all. Better access to high-quality palliative care, greater support for carers and enhanced end of life services will be among the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies ought to be harnessed.
Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha
Mr Yousif Al-Khoei, Director Al-Khoei Foundation
Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church and Secretary of the Conference
Bishop Eric Brown, Administrative Bishop, New Testament Church of God
Mr Malcolm M Deboo, President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
Rev Jonathan Edwards, Deputy Moderator Free Churches Group
Pastor John Glass, General Superintendent, Elim Pentecostal Churches
Revd David Grosch-Miller and Mr John Ellis, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
Colonel David Hinton, Chief Secretary, The Salvation Army United Kingdom
Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Ayatollah Fazel Milani, Dean of the International Colleges of Islamic Studies
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales
His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster
Rev John Partington, National Leader, Assemblies of God
Mr Ramesh Pattni, Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
Bishop Wilton Powell, National Overseer, Church of God of Prophecy
Maulana Shahid Raza OBE, Leicester Central Mosque, Leicester
Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain, London Buddhist Vihara
Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain
Dr Natubhai Shah, Chairman/CEO Jain Network
Lord Indarjit Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)
Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
His Grace is of the view that the liberalisation of the law on 'assisted suicide' or euthanasia would be a dangerously amoral development, as the Lords Spiritual asserted when the issue was last presented to Parliament. This is not simply a theist perspective; it is consistent with the principles of Enlightenment secularism also. Natural law – that which constitutes rightness and justice – is common to all mankind. The Greeks and Romans articulated this in their philosophy, setting the foundation for St Paul and later philosophers. Thus did Cicero write of "true law, right reason, diffused in all men, constant and everlasting", and St. Paul reflected on "what the law requires is written in their hearts" (Rom 2:15). Hobbes defines the law of nature as "a precept of general rule found out by reason by which a man in forbidden to do anything which is destructive of his life".
Opposition to "do anything which is destructive of life" is one of the few general rules which unites all of the world’s religions. The Church of England's position on this matter is clear:
The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.. Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England's concerns about any proposal to change the law. Our position on the current Bill before parliament is also consistent with the approach taken by the Archbishops' Council, House of Bishops and with successive resolutions of the General Synod.The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states: "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick and dying persons. It is morally unacceptable" (para.2277). Pope John Paul II reflected in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae that "we see a tragic spread of euthanasia, disguised and surreptitious, or practised openly or even legally. As well as for reasons of misguided pity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and weigh heavily on society". And more recently Pope Benedict XVI stated that "freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery".
The Orthodox and Protestant churches have expressed similar views, most notably the Baptists, who concluded that "a Christian should never recommend, or help with a suicide of an unsaved person because that would hasten the unsaved person's damnation and prevent any chance of repentance. It is an affront to God to take one's own life, both for reasons of his sovereignty but also because any murder is an attempt to annihilate his image in man (Gen1:26f)".
Similar sentiments opposing euthanasia may be found in the scriptures and/or ethical traditions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Suffering is natural to the human condition, and the end of life does not need hastening but loving; there should be no easy escape, but dignity and care. 'Assisted suicide' is as morally repugnant as abortion; indeed, His grace is hard-pressed to comprehend those who repudiate the former while supporting the latter, for both are concerned with the termination of the seemingly deficient or unwanted; both have the distaste of eugenics – ending the ‘unworthy’ life. Just as the legalisation of abortion was never intended to open the floodgates that it evidently has, so the legalisation of 'assisted suicide' would mutate over the decades, and eventually lead to the ‘humane’ termination of all those who simply cannot be bothered to continue. What will doubtless begin with volunteers will eventually include conscripts; the ‘right’ to die may easily become an expectation, and even a duty.
Killing is not healing. In a culture that worships youth, beauty and physical fitness, the elderly, ugly and disabled may be seen as deficient, but they are also made in the image of God. And just like Christ suffered at Calvary, they must be exhorted to endure whatever life throws at them. And then, with Job, might they come to know that their redeemer lives. In the meantime, unlike Job, they need friends and comforters around them who can make them see that their life has worth, and that their witness is profound.
Will Canon Harper apologise to those devout men and women of God whom she grievously offended in Parliament (and elsewhere) by slandering their faithfulness and denigrating their grasp of theology and morality? Or is this post simply further 'trolling', as newly defined by her boss the Bishop of Buckingham?
The Assisted Dying Bill is quite literally a matter of life and death for society. But some Christians prefer to play the man rather than the ball, which they do usually because they lack confidence in their own case, or in their ability to argue their case, and so seek to suppress debate by screeching "bigot" or "troll", or puffing and blowing about how "extraordinary" and "toxic" it is to have an "unreconstructed right-wing" blog which is "unaccountable" to anyone.
This blog is accountable ultimately to God.
As are all those who vote for this odious Bill.