A Christian presence in every community

assisted suicide

Produced by Mission and Public Affairs, in association with the Communications Office

The Church of England is opposed to any change in the law, or medical practice, to make assisted suicide permissible or acceptable.

Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication; meeting it by assisted suicide is merely removing it in the crudest way possible.

Assisted dying - thoughts from
the Bishop of Carlisle

In its March 2009 paper Assisted Dying/Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia, the Church acknowledged the complexity of the issues while explaining its position, noting that the compassion that motivates those who seek change equally motivates the Church's opposition to change.

In January 2012, the Church reitterated its views by responding to a report from the Commission on Assisted Dying with a statement from the Bishop of Carlisle.

The Church's full response to the Report of the Commission on Assisted Dying outlines a number of significant failings in the report's findings.

In Turning a Blind Eye, Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church's National Medical and Health and Social Care Policy Adviser, argues that the Falconer Commission's recommendations place vulnerable people at increased risk of abuse.

In The Intrinsic Value of Life, the Bishop of Carlisle examines the danger of abandoning the key principle of human life as having an intrinsic value, a principle which undergirds much of human rights legislation, criminal law and social cohesion.

In April 2013, a statement from the Church of England responded to a YouGov poll commissioned for the final 2013 Westminster Faith Debate on assisted suicide - saying: "This study demonstrates that complex discussions on topics such as assisted suicide and euthanasia cannot be effectively conducted through the medium of online surveys. The survey failed to provide accurate and universally agreed definitions of the terms it used, it spoke of 'rights' without any understanding of the nature of human rights law and it introduced terms such as 'the sanctity of life' which have specifically religious connotations rather than terms such as 'inherent value of life' which are 'faith-neutral'. Euthanasia is defined in an emotively skewed fashion as: 'Euthanasia is the termination of a person's life, in order to end suffering.' This inaccurate definition is accompanied by a question which fails to define the current law and focuses on risk of prosecution to loved ones. Presented with that definition and question it is surprising that the figure is as low as 72%. This survey adds nothing of value to the current complex debate on assisted suicide, but seeks to reduce to 'sound-bites' issues that deserve proper and full consideration." 

Principles behind the Church's position:

• Personal autonomy and the protection of life are both important principles that are often complementary but sometimes compete.

• Personal autonomy must be principled and not without regard to others.

• Protection of life should take priority when there is a conflict between the two.

• When protection of life is impossible that does not undermine these principles.

• Every human being is uniquely and equally valuable, hence human rights are built on the foundation of the 'right to life', as is much of the criminal code.

• An obligation on society, doctors and nurses, to take life or to assist in the taking of life would create a new and unwelcome role for society.

Assisted suicide in practice

There would be problems ensuring that any law permitting assisted suicide would be sufficiently safe-guarded against abuse.

Elastic interpretations of the law: any law, however tightly formulated, would have to be 'interpreted'; doctors would vary in their approach and consistency would be impossible to achieve with 'wider' interpretations of the law becoming acceptable.

Hidden pressures on patients and staff: even with safeguards, it would be impossible to ensure that no vulnerable, terminally ill patient would feel under moral, economic or social pressure to accept assisted suicide.

A redefinition of healthcare: trust in the health service is crucial to the health and well-being of individuals and of the population; to introduce assisted suicide into the NHS (the only way the 'right' would be universally accessible) would be to change fundamentally the nature of that trust.

The doctor and nurse/patient relationship would change: the nature of this relationship would change fundamentally and irrevocably if assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia were to become part of the 'treatment' that health professionals were to be able to offer their patients.

The effects on palliative care: assisted suicide would require large resources, with no guarantee it would be safely and fairly administered, putting further pressure on the already under-resourced psychological, social, family and spiritual support services needed to address all of the needs of terminally-ill people in a full palliative care-package.

Post your comment