Assisted Dying Bill 2015

On 11 September 2015 MPs will have a free vote on a Bill that would make it lawful for medical professionals to provide assistance with suicide for qualifying terminally ill people who request it.

We believe that the Assisted Dying Bill has the potential to damage both the wellbeing of individuals and the nature and shape of our society. If enacted, the Assisted Dying Bill would put at risk many more vulnerable people than it seeks to help.

Every person's life is of immeasurable value and ought to be affirmed, respected and cherished by society. This is true even when some people no longer view their own lives as being of any further value. This attitude is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error and risk eroding carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for a society that respects and cares for all   The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others' lives, in effect agreeing that their lives 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, at times, this calls for sacrifice on the part of others.  Each year in the UK some 500,000 elderly, vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers.  It is essential that these and other vulnerable individuals are not placed at increased risk. 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.  In such circumstances, the desire to end one's life may be prompted by depression, external pressure or a sense of duty to others. The provisions of the Assisted Dying Bill would only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support. For them, 'choice' would represent a further, heavy burden to be borne.

The Bill seeks to provide safeguards against abuse; numerous legal safeguards already exist in other areas, but have failed to stop child, domestic and elder abuse. There can be no confidence that regulating assisted suicide would fare any better. 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 the Assisted Dying Bill were to become law, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.

We must choose what sort of society we wish to become: one in which people are valued primarily for their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves. The Assisted Dying Bill seeks to show compassion to those terminally ill individuals who wish to end their lives, but, in effect, it is not compassionate enough. We must ensure that care and compassion are shown to all, particularly the vulnerable, and that in seeking to address the needs and aspirations of some individuals we do not disadvantage and put at risk many, many more. Better access to high-quality, holistic palliative care, greater support for carers and enhanced end of life services are the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies must be directed.

Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, Church of England national adviser on medical ethics

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