Letter Sent To Rt.Hon Michael Fallon And Other MPs In The Diocese Of Rochester
Assisted Dying Bill
I am aware that the House of Commons will be voting on this bill on 11th September and I am writing to express my concerns about the legalisation of assisted suicide. I would like to make five points.
First, the passing of this bill will have a deep and profound effect upon the very fabric of society. Respect for human life has been fundamental in British society and if this bill were passed, then it could, in time, lead to a form of commodification of life. I realise that those in support of this bill have the most noble of motives at heart, that is to alleviate suffering, but society is accustomed to discarding what is inconvenient and what does not work well. Such an attitude could so easily creep into the way that human life is viewed which will have catastrophic outcomes for the future.
Secondly, if this Bill were passed, there is the danger that less money and research would be put into palliative care because assisted suicide would in the end be a less costly option. At times of financial stringency, prescribing a cocktail of lethal drugs could be viewed as far more cost-efficient than palliative care.
Thirdly, I agree with those who are concerned that, if this bill were passed, many vulnerable people would feel under pressure to take the lethal dose so that they would not be a burden. I was disturbed to read that in the the US states of Oregon and Washington (where assisted suicide is legal) between 40% and 60% of those who used legally prescribed lethal drugs to end their lives cited concern that they would be a burden on their families as a factor in their decision to bring their lives to a premature end.
Fourthly, I believe that assisted suicide takes away from people the very choice which others claim that it gives. Let me explain. Like a lot of clergy, I have been with many dying people. I have conducted funerals of elderly people whose passing, though deeply grieved, has been recognised as a natural end to a life well-lived. I have also conducted funerals of young people, prematurely and unjustly snatched away and of children who died before they had a chance to live. Some passed gently into that dark night, others raged against it. For some death was peaceful – for others it was a hard struggle. But what I observed in many instances is people choosing to die. They may not articulate this desire (though some do) but at some place deep within, a choice is made which affects their whole being and the direction of their illness. Usually, illness and weariness meant that their investment in this life diminished and they were ready to move on. They loosened their ties with the world and were ready, even eager, to embrace whatever they believed was – or was not – to come. What they were seeking was not a glass of lethal barbiturates provided by others which would take them before they were completely ready to go, but rather help and support as they negotiated, within themselves, with God and with others, this journey into the unknown. Like those coming into this world, they needed ‘midwives’, often loved ones and friends, to support them as they departed from it.
Finally, placing upon the medical profession the responsibility of assessing whether a person has less than six months to live is unreasonable. A close friend of mine discovered he had inoperable cancer on Christmas Eve 2013. He was told that he had three months to live and was offered chemotherapy to extend his life by a few months. He refused chemotherapy and opted for palliative care which he received. Twenty-one months later, he is still with us. He has recently returned from holiday in Cornwall and each day he walks for an hour. He still has his cancer and he knows that eventually it will take him, but the palliative care he has received from the NHS has been wonderful and he says that he lives a richer and fuller life now than he has ever done. Many in the medical profession would agree that predicting how long a person will live after the diagnosis of a life-limiting disease is a very imprecise science.
Please be assured of my prayers as you and your colleagues debate and vote on 11th September.
With best wishes
Bishop of Tonbridge
PS I am copying this to some of your parliamentary colleagues across the diocese of Rochester.