LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Cardinal Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has written to members of the UK’s House of Lords to urge them to reject physician-assisted suicide.
The letter was also signed by Archbishop Justin Welby, the head of the Church of England, and Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
Baroness Molly Meacher’s private member’s Assisted Dying Bill is set to get its second reading – where it will be debated in the House of Lords – on Oct 22.
The proposed legislation would allow terminally ill patients in their last six months of life to commit medically-assisted suicide with the permission of two doctors and a judge. In 2015, a similar bill was introduced in the House of Commons – which holds the real power in the UK – and defeated by a vote of 330 to 118.
In their letter to the House of Lords, the religious leaders expressed their “profound disquiet” at the provisions in the bill.
“We acknowledge that Baroness Meacher is seeking the alleviation of suffering. This motivation we share wholeheartedly, but we disagree on the means advanced to address this very real concern,” the letter said.
“In particular, we are conscious of the risks and dangers entailed in the provisions of the Bill and the ‘real-life’ practical inadequacies of the proposed safeguards. By the faiths we profess, we hold every human life to be a precious gift of the Creator, to be upheld and protected,” it continued.
Nichols, Welby, and Mirvis said that all people can share their concern that the common good is not served by policies or actions that would place very many vulnerable people in more vulnerable positions.
“We appeal to people of whatever faith or belief to join us through our common bond of humanity in caring for the most vulnerable people within our society. In contrast to the proposals in this Bill, we continue to call for measures to make high-quality palliative care available to all at the end of their lives,” they wrote.
“We believe that the aim of a compassionate society should be assisted living rather than an acceptance of assisted suicide,” the letter concluded.
Robert Preston, the former clerk to a UK parliamentary committee that examined assisted suicide in 2004-2005, said legislators risk signing a “blank check” if they legalize the practice.
He was speaking at an event Monday evening organized by Caritas Jersey. Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, is a mostly self-governing Crown dependency and is also debating an assisted suicide law.
Preston said legalizing medically-assisted dying tells terminally ill people they should be considering suicide.
“For determined and strong-willed people, that might be okay, but most terminally-ill people are not like that – they are fearful and worried about being a burden on their families,” reported the Jersey Evening Post.
Writing in The House, Baroness Jane Campbell said many disabled people will be “anxiously listening” to the debate over Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill.
Campbell was born with spinal muscular atrophy, requiring her to use a wheelchair and need a ventilator to help her breathe at night. She is longtime advocate for the disabled.
“Supporters of the Bill claim it only removes the legal safeguards against suicide for those with a terminal illness, but it is wide enough to include those like me who live with a progressive disability which can suddenly deteriorate. Our condition is often considered terminal because of the all-pervasive stereotype of disabled people ‘suffering’,” she wrote.
Campbell said doctors are not immune to stereotypes and recounted the time years ago when she was critically ill in hospital.
“The consultant declared they would not resuscitate me should I stop breathing because it was ‘not in my best interests,’ as ‘I was obviously end-of-life.’ Luckily, my husband was present to advocate for me,” she said.
Like the religious leaders, the baroness advocated good palliative care should be available to everyone who needs it, and noted it is not always available.
“Licensing doctors to administer lethal drugs to patients would cross the Rubicon of ‘do no harm.’ The role of doctors is to support patients to live as well as possible until death. We need to trust that they will do everything to that end; we rely on them to feel safe and secure. Legalizing assisted suicide would jeopardize this relationship,” she wrote.
Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other members of the Cabinet have expressed their opposition to changing the laws against medically-assisted suicide, a government spokesperson told ITV News the government would not try and influence the vote of the members of parliament.
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