The Archbishop of Wales has joined more than 20 faith leaders in signing a letter to MPs highlighting the dangers of the Assisted Dying Bill scheduled for debate on 11 Sept 2015. Vulnerable people would be placed at risk should Parliament approve proposals to legalise assisted suicide the letter printed in the Observer stated.
As leaders of faith communities, we wish to express concern at the provisions of the assisted dying (No 2) bill, currently in the House of Commons. In doing so, we are conscious that the bill touches deeply on some of the most difficult and testing circumstances that people may face.
While much could be said on the legal and ethical implications of the bill, our focus in writing is pastoral. In our communities and through healthcare chaplaincy we care daily for the elderly, the ill, the dying and their families; our concern is rooted in a profoundly human and profoundly sacred calling to care for the most vulnerable in our society, a concern shared by people of all faiths and of none.
The bill has the potential to affect the lives of a great number of people whose circumstances make them vulnerable in different ways.
If passed, it will directly affect not only those who are terminally ill and who wish to end their lives, but also their families and friends and the health professionals who care for them. It also has the potential to have a significant impact on other vulnerable individuals: those who believe that they have become burdens to family and carers and feel under pressure within themselves to “do the decent thing” and, tragically, those who might be pressured by others to seek a medically assisted death.
In the UK, some 500,000 elderly people are abused each year, most by family members, often for financial reasons. Many of these would also be vulnerable to pressure to end their lives prematurely.
It may not be possible fully to meet the needs and aspirations of all those who in various ways are vulnerable, but we are convinced that the current law, alongside the published policy for prosecutors, provides much greater protection for the vulnerable than would legislation based on this bill.
Sadly, there are still instances of painful or distressing death, though due to advances in palliative care, these are much less common than was once the case.* For very many people, however, the natural processes of dying, allied with good palliative care, enable them and their families to experience precious moments of love, care, reconciliation and even hope; processes that ought not to be truncated.
For many, a change in the law would result, not in greater comfort, but in an added burden to consider ending their lives prematurely, a burden they ought not to be asked to bear.
We believe that the best response to individuals’ end-of-life concerns lies in ensuring that all receive compassionate, high-quality palliative care and that this is best pursued under current legislation. A law based on this assisted dying bill would put at risk many more vulnerable people than it seeks to help.
Justin Welby archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal Vincent Nichols archbishop of Westminster; Commissioner Clive Adams territorial commander, the Salvation Army; Rev Yemi Adedeji director, One People Commission; Yousif Al-Khoei director, Al-Khoei Foundation; Bishop Angaelos Coptic Orthodox Church, UK; Stuart Blount National Leadership Team, Elim Pentecostal Churches; Rev Lyndon Bowring executive chairman, Care (Christian Action, Research and Education); Steve Clifford general director of the Evangelical Alliance; Rev David Coffey global ambassador, Baptist Missionary Society; Malcolm M Deboo president, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe; Rev Trevor Howard UK co-ordinator, Churches in Communities International; Billy Kennedy leader of Pioneer & CTE; Rev Stephen Keyworth Faith and Society team leader, Baptist Union; Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; Barry Morgan archbishop of Wales; Rev Dr Hugh Osgood the Free Churches moderator; Rev John Partington National leader, Assemblies of God GB; Rev Gareth Powell secretary of the Methodist Conference ; Mohammad Shahid Raza founder trustee, British Muslim Forum and head imam, Leicester Central Mosque; Dr Shuja Shafi secretary general, theMuslim Council of Britain; Natubhai Shah chair/CEO Jain Network; Lord Singh of Wimbledon director, Network of Sikh Organisations UK; Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha