The Church of England has welcomed today’s vote in Parliament rejecting a bill legalizing physician assisted suicide.
By a vote of 118 in favor and 330 opposed MPs rejected a bill brought by the member for Wolverhampton South West, Rob Marris (Lab), that would have permitted terminally ill adults, who had less than six months to live, to take a lethal dose of narcotics. Two doctors and a High Court judge would have been required to pre-approve the suicide, and the patient would have had to self-administer the narcotics.
Mr. Marris told the House of Commons the current law was inadequate and did not reflect modern thinking on suicide. “Social attitudes have changed” he said, arguing Parliament should step into prevent “amatuer suicides” and “people going to Dignitas”, the Swiss suicide clinic. Allowing physician assisted suicide would “provide more protection for the living and more choice for the dying,” he said.
Mr. Marris was unable to persuade the House, however, with 74 per cent of MPs voting against his bill after four hours of debate. The member for Congleton, Fiona Bruce, (Cons.) responded the proposed bill was so badly drafted and morally wrongheaded that “if this weren’t so serious it would be laughable”.
“We are here to protect the most vulnerable in our society, not to legislate to kill them. This bill is not merely flawed, it is legally and ethically totally unacceptable,” she said.
Opinion polls have registered overall approval for the concept of physician assisted suicide, with some faith leaders, including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, backing a reform in the law. However, the Church of England along with the majority of faith groups in the UK have opposed legalizing euthanasia.
Following the vote, the Rt. Rev. James Newcome, (pictured) Bishop of Carlisle, and lead bishop for the Church of England on health care issues, said: “We are heartened that MPs have decided not to change the law on assisted suicide.”
“We believe that the proposals contained in the Assisted Dying Bill would have exposed already vulnerable people to increased risk. The vote in the House of Commons sends a strong signal that the right approach towards supporting the terminally ill is to offer compassion and support through better palliative care. We believe that all of us need to redouble our efforts on that front.”
Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, applauded the vote saying: “It protects those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion, it acts as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers and does not need changing.”
The chief executive of the pro-suicide lobbying group Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton, denounced Parliament for being out of touch with voter sentiments.
“By rejecting the Bill Parliament has in effect decided to condone terminally ill people ending their own lives but refused to provide them the adequate protection they need. Suffering will continue as long as MPs turn a blind eye to dying people’s wishes. Dying people deserve better,” she claimed.
Euthanasia is illegal under English law, and will remain so following today’s vote in Parliament. The Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.