By Amelia Abplanalp,
Public Policy Officer and leading the work on assisted dying legislation at Evangelical Alliance
Rejected in 2006, and again in 2009, attempts to introduce assisted suicide are now back on the table. This also follows rejection in Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Rob Marris MP has introduced an assisted dying bill that is expected to be largely the same as Lord Falconer’s previous effort, which ran out of time before May’s general election. It is anticipated the bill will make it legal to assist in the death of people who are terminally ill with six months or less to live, provided they are considered mentally competent by two doctors. The change is presented as a compassionate response to tragic situations. Cases of people in severe continual pain make us want to be compassionate, and that is a good thing.
But this is a wholly wrong way to look after the most vulnerable. In fact, it does the opposite, putting them in mortal peril. The law must stay as it is now to protect those who are least able to have their voice heard: the disabled, terminally ill and elderly, people who might otherwise feel pressured into ending their lives. Campaigners to change the law make grand promises for the modesty of their goals, but I don’t believe them. The parameters set out for who could ask for a doctor’s help in killing themselves are ambiguous, open to challenge, and not unanimously supported among assisted dying advocates.
For example, many campaigners would like the law to apply to chronic non-terminal conditions. Saying the parameters will stay as they are is like pointing at a waterpark slide, insisting it isn’t a slippery slope. Since the legalisation of assisted suicide in Belgium and the Netherlands, it has become ever more commonplace, including allowing children’s lives to be taken. Opposing this legislation is essential if we are to value and protect life. Compassion, as the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote last year in response to Lord Falconer’s plans, “is not simply a feeling; it is a commitment to sharing in the suffering of others while trying to alleviate it.
True compassion can be shown through care, through expending time and resources on those suffering and through offering hope even in the darkest of circumstances.” In opposing this bill we must not trivialise or ignore the pain and suffering many people endure. Our country has a rich tradition of quality care for the dying and this must be the focus of our efforts. The government should work to make our palliative care the best in the world – care that thanks to modern medicine can deal effectively with most forms of pain and distress.
Those supporting assisted suicide frequently talk about the right to choose – and we do have a choice: we can choose to support a society that puts measures in place that undermine the dignity and security of life, which encourages people to think they may be becoming a burden on others. Or we can choose to support a society that upholds the inherent dignity and value of every individual. A society that protects our most vulnerable: the terminally ill, the disabled and the elderly. A society which, as the Bishop of Plymouth says: “Cherishes life in all its vulnerability”. The current law works well; it acts as a powerful deterrent to the exploitation of vulnerable people while also allowing a measure of discretion to prosecutors and judge in complex and difficult cases.
Beyond the very many arguments to keep the law as it is, there is one further consideration for Christians. At the heart of our faith is the belief that life is a sacred gift from God; it is not ours to decide when it should end. We are stewards, not the owners of the life God has entrusted to us. So we have a responsibility to promote a culture of life rather than one of hopelessness for people in the midst of very difficult circumstances.