A hot topic, and something debated in Year 10 RE lessons as part of Unit 1 Section 2 (Matters of Life and Death), it seems that every week you’ll find it in the British news.
Last week there was a Dutch minister who said he regretted how the Netherlands had legalised euthanasia and that he feared Britain would make the same mistake.
Meanwhile this week it is the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey who has announced his support for the proposal to legalist assisted dying as a way of preventing “needless suffering”.
As peers prepare to debate a bill next Friday to legalise assisted dying, the former head of the worldwide Anglican church said it would not be “anti-Christian” to ensure that terminally ill patients avoid “unbearable” pain. The assisted dying bill, due to be debated next Friday at second reading in the House of Lords, would legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill in England and Wales.
The Church of England is strongly opposed to the bill. But in an article for the Daily Mail, Carey said he had changed his mind after witnessing the pain of Tony Nicklinson who suffered from locked-in syndrome. He died two years ago just weeks after losing his high court battle.
Carey wrote: “The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.
“It was the case of Tony Nicklinson that exerted the deepest influence on me. Here was a dignified man making a simple appeal for mercy, begging that the law allow him to die in peace, supported by his family. His distress made me question my motives in previous debates. Had I been putting doctrine before compassion, dogma before human dignity?
“I began to reconsider how to interpret Christian theology on the subject. As I did so, I grew less and less certain of my opposition to the right to die.”
The Falconer bill would allow doctors to administer a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients with less than six months to live who have the mental capacity to make an informed choice. The patient’s condition would have to be assessed by two doctors.
The former archbishop wrote of how he challenged his own thinking as he re-read the Scriptures. He wrote: “One of the key themes of the gospels is love for our fellow human beings … Today we face a terrible paradox. In strictly observing accepted teaching about the sanctity of life, the church could actually be sanctioning anguish and pain – the very opposite of the Christian message.”
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the chair of Inter-Faith Leaders for Dignity in Dying, welcomed Carey’s intervention. Romain said: “The former archbishop’s words are like a breath of fresh air sweeping through rooms cloaked in theological dust that should have been dispersed long ago. He shows that it is possible to be both religious and in favour of assisted dying.”
MPs and peers will be given a free vote on the bill. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat care minister, is expected to support the measure.