Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill 2015–16

Parliament reassembles today and on 11 September is expected to have its second reading of Rob Marris M.P.’s bill. You can read the text here: Regular readers will already know what I think about assisted dying/suicide/euthanasia (if you don’t and are interested, a search in the sidebar will soon show you). For once, the ‘slippery slope’ argument seems to me entirely valid. Archbishop Welby is only the latest in a long line of distinguished commentators to call attention to the fact that, if the bill becomes law, it will overturn some fundamental beliefs about life and death. We all know that many people take their ideas of what is right or wrong from what the law does or does not permit, but I wonder how many of those arguing in favour of a change in the law have stopped to consider any of its possible unintended consequences?

If one says that permtting assisted suicide is going to make the elderly, the sick and the disabled liable to come under considerable pressure to ‘do the decent thing’ and make away with themselves, one opens a can of worms about the definition of competence (which is germane to the bill). One also opens a can of worms about how we understand life and death. When the Abortion Act was passed, I remember thinking how outraged the history text-books of my childhood had been about the Roman practice of infanticide but there we were, in the twentieth century, accepting another form of infanticide and passing it off as ‘compassionate’. How outraged we still are at the idea of suttee, but how readily we seem to be accepting the idea that we have a right to end our own lives. Who, really, can decide the level of competence required to determine whether, for example, a depressed young man, otherwise healthy, or someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, is sufficiently able to make a decision? Who will judge what influence may have been brought to bear on them? What of the burden placed upon medical staff? And what of the trust we place in them to do whatever they can to heal and preserve life?

In the public debate on this subject, I have noticed a small but vociferous element which not only decries those of us who argue on religious grounds but also maintains that we have no right to argue as we do, because our understanding of morality and ethics is based on something they do not share. That strikes me as being very dangerous. Some of the worst horrors of the twentieth century were perfectly legal acts, but they were not right. Those who objected to the destruction of Jews, gays and gypsies by the Nazis, for example, often did so because they held to religious belief systems which could not countenance such injustice. If Mr Marris’ bill becomes law, I don’t think it’s fanciful to expect that those of us who base our morality and ethics on our religious beliefs will find our right to speak and act further circumscribed. From being wrong to take a life, it may become wrong to preserve one — especially if the State does not value that life. If you haven’t already done so, please think carefully about this bill and its implications and write to your M.P. Please pray also for those who must debate it on Friday.


16 thoughts on “Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill 2015–16”

  1. Brilliant comment Sister C. Mercifully my MP is voting against the bill. The lovely Christian Joni Eareckson Tada ,who had been a quadriplegic for almost 50 years ,and has used her disability to work on behalf of others like herself (she is also in remission from breast cancer ),is totally opposed to assisted dying.I happened upon a short video from Dignitas where the sheer “normality” of it all horrified me;the clinical assistant just “popping” into the local drug store and putting the lethal mixture into her shopping bag,and eventually mixing the stuff in a glass by a sink containing the morning’s coffee cups. The resulting concoction was given to an elderly lady who walked into the clinic looking quite fit for her age and was quite aware of what she was doing,waving good bye to everyone in the room.Terrible to think that society has come to this.

  2. Thank you for outlining your views on this – which match my own 100 per cent.

    I often wonder how we as a society have betrayed our humanity that we have come to accept that life is just another commodity that we can use and dispose of at our convenience.

    I like you, believe that all life is precious and is a gift from God, who makes those decisions for us on the length of our life and if we deny that fact, were lying to ourselves and spurning God’s wonderful action of creation.

    I despair of those who support this bill, and criticise the very legitimate concerns of whose who object to assisted dying as an instrument of Government policy, to dispose of the inconvenience of those who are old, unwell or and are stopping the younger, fit members of society getting on with things. I don’t doubt that those proposing the bill are well intentioned, but I hesitate to say that their reasons are justifiable.

    This is an unnecessary piece of legislation which ends any final hope that the right to life will be protected for the unborn or the living. It seems we’re creating our own hell, here on earth, not building the Kingdom of God 🙁

  3. I will certainly offer my prayers. Your argument is compelling and I have nothing to offer in addition. On my side of the pond we also struggle with this notion that opinions based on religious beliefs are somehow disqualified from the general discussion because not everybody shares this belief. Why then would antibodies viewpoint of moral or ethical values be included ? This leaves us in the situation of producing laws to govern ourselves that can be rooted in just about anything other than our moral fiber, a situation that is absurd at face value. Everybody’s sense of right and wrong must come from some deeper sense of moral authority, otherwise it is simply a case of majority rule, and that being the case, our laws protect none of us, and the only thing that they say on our behalf is that we are a lost people.

  4. You know my opinion about assisted dying, just as I know yours, and they are diametrically opposed, so no point in rehearsing them again. However, I do feel that it is important to point out that this is an assisted dying bill, limited to assisting the dying of the terminally ill, and is not an assisted suicide bill. Therefore your point about the depressed young man (who would anyway be perfectly able to take his own life) is not relevant to the current issue.

    I was disheartened to hear of people decrying your right to comment or argue on religious grounds, but relieved that the number is, as you mentioned, very small. Although I completely disagree with your stance on this issue, I vehemently support your right to state your case, on religious, moral or any other grounds, would continue to do so were this bill to succeed in parliament, and I do not see that your absolute right to speak and act would be circumscribed by this.

    (As a side comment, and worthy of possibly further discussion at a separate time, I am concerned by your use of the word ‘further’ in this context. Do you really feel that your right to comment is already as circumscribed as, say, that of atheists in the US?)

    Furthermore, while it is undoubtedly true that many people object to injustice because of their religious belief systems, it is important to remember that many object to injustice because of their human belief systems. Surely you did not mean to imply that all atheists were sanguine about the destruction of Jews, gays and gypsies by the Nazis? Or that those who held to religious belief systems always objected to that destruction?

    Overall, I think from your writings that our understanding of morality and ethics is very similar, despite the fact that yours derives from a religion that I do not share. I like to believe that your stance is also based on a common humanity and an understanding of that humanity that we both do share, but that, in this one case of the Assisted Dying Bill, we interpret differently.

    • You use the terminology of the bill ‘assisted dying’ but I use the more traditional ‘assisted suicide’ because I believe the choice of wording is significant. The definition of suicide is to kill oneself intentionally, and that is precisely what this bill, if enacted, intends to help people do. I pointed out in paragraph one that I believe in this case the ‘slippery slope’ argument is valid, which is why I made the points I do in paragraph two about it leading to a broadening of scope to include such people as a depressed young person. I remember the advocates of the 1967 Abortion Act assuring us that it would only apply in a very few cases of medical need and that two doctors would always have to assess the patient’s condition, etc; yet I know from my years of working for the Life organization before I became a nun that the controls which were intended were not always observed or enacted. Current statistics for the number of abortions performed in the UK suggest a number of people are seeking abortions for other than strictly medical reasons. I see no reason to expect that we would fare any better with the provisions of this bill, especially since the experience of those countries which have permitted euthanasia for some years suggests otherwise. (The link to the Ascombe Bioethics pages on the subject is quite useful here).

      I did not say, nor did I intend to say, that only religious people objected to Nazi actions. If you re-read what I wrote, you’ll see I used the phrase ‘often did so because’ which, to me, implies many but not all, which I think is accurate.

      As to freedom of speech and action for those who hold religious beliefs, the closure of all the Catholic adoption agencies in this country because they could not in conscience place children with same-sex couples is an instance of the law being used to coerce people either to act in ways they think wrong or withdraw from some aspects of public life altogether.

      Finally, although I believe we share many values in common, as you say, I suspect the fact that I have a terrminal illness and you, I hope and pray, have not, may have enabled me to think about this in a slightly different way: not what I would want, but what would I, or anyone else in my condition, be capable of or be influenced by.

  5. I am not sure if it is a common euphemism for suicide but your use of ‘do the decent thing’ brought me back to a movie called “The Ruling Class” starring Peter O’Toole with Alastair Sim. In it, O’Toole is delusional and thinks he is Jesus. Sim, his uncle and a Bishop in the C of E asks him why he thinks He ids god. O’Toole’s character responds: “It’s quite simple uncle , I find when I pray I am talking to myself.”
    What was once absurd and comedic, though a dark one, has now found its place in our history and make no mistake, the experience of those seeking death from Dr Kevorkian were primarily isolated, depressed women with nothing terminal in their lives but life itself. They just did not want to go on because there was nothing to live for. Tha,t I offer, is our failing in a throw-away society where only the young and fit and good looking have value. We will have opened both doors to state control of life both ends compressing toward the center and “Logan’s Run” cannot be far off.

  6. On Saturday morning, with our permission, our veterinarian euthanized our desperately ill elderly cat. In a dimly lit room with hushed voices, wrapped in a warm blanket and held in my arms, she was administered a sedative, causing her, mercifully, to relax. The next intravenous injection ended her life in a matter of seconds. No gasping, no agonal breathing, no spasms. She simply laid her head against my chest and passed.

    I thought how easy that was, how quickly her suffering ended as compared to that of the countless palliative patients I’ve cared for. So tempting to think this would be an easy out choice for humans. Therein lies the rub – the temptation to play God. Unlike assisted birth where we intervene where necessary to save mothers and babies through medical advances, no matter how we phrase it, taking the life of another human being breaks the Commandment not to kill. I, for one, choose life and will leave the business of being God to God alone.

  7. I intend to write to my MP on this topic, I just haven’t quite found the time to align my thoughts in a well argued way. Your blog is a good prompt to get on with it.

    When reading through the act, I was struck by how carefully elements of it had been created to build in safeguards. Some of my concerns (for example about how families might be torn apart by disagreements if one dependent held a different opinion to another) were alleviated, but then I became struck by how cold it was. Just between you and two doctors. No need to consult your family at all.

    I’d be devastated if my parents chose to end their lives in their old age. I’d think that I’d failed to support them in any suffering, or to help them feel that their lives still had value. I think I’d carry that feeling of guilt for the rest of my life. Even thought, ostensibly, it was nothing to do with me!

    The analogies with abortion are not dissimilar – I have friends who chose to terminate a pregnancy, and most definitely carry the weight and guilt of their decision. The mental health implications for those involved in these decisions can be enormous.

    So similarly, I fear for the doctors involved. I have read that emotional impact of conducting animal testing can be measured the lab technicians responsible for doing it. Can we really expect medical professionals not to be similarly affected, when asked to assist someone to kill themselves?

    Then I get around to the manner of death. Oddly enough, there isn’t much medical research on good drugs to kill someone with, and understandably, pharmaceutical companies can be reluctant to supply them, let alone do more research. You only have to look at how hard America finds it to purchase drugs suitable for death by lethal injection. If someone I knew really did want to end it all, I’d have very little confidence that this was really the kindest thing, and not going to cause additional undue suffering during their death.

    I hope you won’t mind me using your blog to get my thoughts in order. The issue is clearly a very emotive one. I was also hurt to realise how angry the internet response against religious objections on this have been. My objection to this Act is just as much because of the social impacts as about my religious beliefs, but both are equally valid!

    • Whenever I write, no matter what my own opinion is, I do want to make people think. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. There are many ways of approaching the bill, and I think we all need to examine its possible impact.

  8. Thank you for these comments which add to a profoundly significant debate and one which fills some of my elderly parishioners with terror. The people with a voice are the powerful-MPs and media commentators are by and large one or more steps removed and don’t live in the isolation of a ‘care’ home.

    That note of isolation is perhaps the one thing I’d add – having not seen it anywhere else – that is the existential isolation of a ‘society’ in which ‘the individual’ is exalted to the highest place. This debate is going on in a culture which exalts life alone over life together. The idea that our lives are irretrievably interwoven is all but ridiculous in common parlance, yet we are dependent on one another like never before.

    As to being a burden, we are all burdens to one another, it is the biggest Gift of learning to be human. Abandoning it is to deny our very existence. This bill is symptomatic of a deep rooted Hope less nihilism

  9. Good quality palliative care is essential in assisting people with a terminal illness. I believe this is an area where health systems could devote more time, and training, towards a compassionate and caring assistance to people in need. Jesus commanded us to “love one another” and comforted his disciples as he approached the Cross.

  10. Life is sacred. Life is sweet. Life can be painful and agonising. Life comes from the grace of God.
    Our current legal approach to assisted termination of life is based upon the kindness of respecting the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’. Also relevant is the commandment ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’.
    Over the last two years, I have lost both my dear wife and my dog. My wife succumbed to severe and exacerbated respiratory illness. Her death was fairly rapid after many years of arthritic pain. Nobody would wish to see a loved one suffer as she did, but never did she seek to end it all.
    God was merciful in the end rendering her unconscious for the last two days of life here on Earth. I miss her greatly but know that her pain is over.
    As for my dog, he was very old and lost the use of his back legs. Asking the vet to euthanase him was very difficult.
    One common factor in all this is love. God’s love for us, our love for Him and those dear to us, and our love for the world. At the end there is faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.

Comments are closed.