Bishop of Durham’s speech in the House of Lords opposing the assisted suicide bill

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My Lords, I begin by noting the simple courtesy that has been expressed so far during the debate today. We know that humanity at its best always wants the best for the people we love, and we act to protect them where we can. It is natural to want to ease hardships and burdens for our loved ones, especially in a time of pain, but also in a time of rising care costs and stretched health services. But human beings do not always act in the best way. We are flawed creatures.

There is a very real danger that individuals will feel that they have become a burden and thus think that the dutiful option to their families is to end their life. In Oregon and Canada, where assisted dying has been legalised, fear of being a burden to family actually frequently accompanies the requests. The scope for abuse and pressure for people to end their lives is significant. It is not a giant leap but a small step. The practice of weighing the value of lives against emotional and financial cost simply is dehumanising.

The consequences of the Bill to the most vulnerable have to be deeply considered. If the value of people’s lives is called into question, it is likely that those who have been historically undervalued and overlooked will be again. Those with disabilities and mental health issues, and other minorities, are already vulnerable, and the difference of experience between those groups and others has again been evident during the pandemic. The Bill acts on the principle that people should have the ability to act upon their will to end their lives, but we have seen instances over the pandemic, as reported by the Care Quality Commission, of “do not attempt CPR” decisions that have been made either without or against the will of the vulnerable. Perhaps even more troubling was the aspect of the report by the CQC, which said that those decisions

“were being applied to groups of people”.

In a stretched and overwhelmed health service that has supported us over a long pandemic, safeguards against oversight cannot be guaranteed. What would have been the outcome of the pandemic if the medical stakes had been higher?

We must not overlook the cultural implications of passing a Bill that leads anyone to measure the worth of someone else’s life. Who are we to put a value on human life or determine that, in some instances, the person is not worth the cost? Let us not abandon the imperative principle that is innate to us of valuing every human life and protecting and caring for the vulnerable.

If I may, I have a reminder for the noble Lord, Lord Vinson:

“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs”—

and then his side was pierced.

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