The former Archbishop of Canterbury says he has changed his mind about the morality of assisted suicide, stating it is compatible with Christian morality.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton has come under criticism after writing that he had dropped his long-standing opposition to assisted suicide and now believed euthanasia was compatible with Christian morality.
Lord Carey’s intervention in the euthanasia debate comes as a bill tabled by Lord Falconer that would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients judged to have few than six months to live has its second reading in the House of Lords on 18 July 2014.
In his article, Lord Carey said: “Anyone who has had to watch a loved one go through the final agonies of a painful terminal illness is bound to ask deep philosophical questions about the nature of life and death.”
“Even the most devout believers will find their faith tested by the sight of a dying person in torment – especially when modern medicine could swiftly bring the torment to a merciful end,” he added noting that the “rapid advance of medical technology has brought us to a crucial ethical turning point.”
“For, while drugs might be able to hasten the end more quickly and painlessly, sophisticated medical science also offers people the chance to be kept alive far beyond anything that would have been possible only a few years ago.”
Rapid advances in pain management and medicine had led him to rethink his opposition to euthanasia. “I would have used the time-honoured argument that we should be devoting ourselves to care, not killing. I would have paraded all the usual concerns about the risks of ‘slippery slopes’ and ‘state-sponsored euthanasia’. But those arguments that persuaded me in the past seem to lack power and authority now when confronted with the experiences of those suffering a painful death.”
“The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering,” he said, announcing his support for Lord Falconer’s bill. “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. Indeed, there is nothing anti-Christian about embracing the reforms that Lord Falconer’s Bill offers.”
Lord Carey’s support for Lord Falconer’s bill was welcomed by the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson who told the Telegraph: “I have come to support assisted dying, not assisted suicide, precisely because I do believe strongly in the sanctity of life.”
“If Britain really does contain 500,000 old people who want out because they’re treated so poorly the answer seems to me to improve their lives not degrade their deaths,” Bishop Wilson said.
He added: “I’m deeply grateful to Lord Carey who is not normally one of my particular heroes but I think that on this he has been very honest.”
However the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in York released a statement noting thei issues raised by Lord Carey were not new, nor persuasive.
“In February 2012 the General Synod passed a motion which ‘affirms the intrinsic value of every human life and expresses its support for the current law on assisted suicide as a means of contributing to a just and compassionate society in which vulnerable people are protected’. The debate on the motion covered all of the issues raised by Dr Carey’s article.”
The Church of England’s lead bishop on health policy in the House of Lords, the Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, said the Church of England was surprised by Lord Carey’s comments in support of Lord Falconer’s bill. He called for the legislation to be withdrawn and the matter placed before a Royal Commission for study.
Lord Carey’s intervention “has brought the issues to the forefront of public discussion and highlighted what an important issue this is. Certainly, our hope as the Church of England is that the Falconer Bill will be withdrawn and that, because this is such an important issue, it could be discussed at length by a Royal Commission,” Bishop Newcome said.
The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt. Rev. Robert Atwell – who served as a hospice chaplain and an ethical adviser on palliative care for the London health authority before he was consecrated a bishop — told the Plymouth Herald he was “totally committed to ensuring the best end-of-life care for sick children and people of all ages. However well intentioned, the proposed Assisted Dying Bill would result in a dangerous long-term shift in medical practice and culture.”
“The vulnerable and terminally ill need to be protected, not pressured,” Bishop Atwell said.
In an article printed in The Times, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said legalizing euthanasia was “both mistaken and dangerous; quite literally, lethally so.”
“It is entirely understandable that when we see someone we love suffering we will suffer along with them and we will want to do almost anything to alleviate their suffering. All of us will have had some experience of that – some of us in extreme and terrible ways. In the last few weeks I have sat by the bedside of someone dying while unnecessary treatment was given. I have sat by the bedside of one of my own children, having to agree to treatment ending.”
“Even in the face of such agony, I would make a plea that the deep personal demands of one situation do not blind us to the wider needs of others. There are many people whom we will never meet who face suffering every day of their lives. Among these are vulnerable people, often elderly or living with severe disabilities. Action on Elder Abuse, for example, states that more than 500,000 elderly people are abused every year in the United Kingdom. Sadly, the majority of such abuse and neglect is perpetrated by friends and relatives, very often with financial gain as the main motive.
“Compassion must be extended to these people when we consider changing the law to accommodate the smaller number of people who wish for help in ending their lives. If we are showing compassion only to those we know and love, there is a danger that it becomes a self-centred sentiment. True compassion suffers with all, including those whom we do not know or might never meet.”
“It would be very naive to think that many of the elderly people who are abused and neglected each year, as well as many severely disabled individuals, would not be put under pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide were permitted by law.”
“Compassion is not simply a feeling,” Archbishop Welby said. “It is a commitment to sharing in the suffering of others while trying to alleviate it. True compassion can be shown through care, through expending time and resources on those suffering and through offering hope even in the darkest of circumstances.”