Five years ago, MPs at Westminster voted on the Assisted Dying Bill. It aimed to change existing law in England and Wales to allow adults with six months or less left to live the right to be killed by a doctor.
There were some superb contributions to that debate. In fact, a number of MPs who had come to Westminster that day intending to vote for the Bill, ended up voting against it. Thankfully, the arguments for protecting life won the day. The Bill was rejected by 330-118.
The battle continues
Ever since that vote in 2015, the pressure has been slowly building for a fresh legislative attempt to change the law. Campaigners for assisted suicide, led by Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) have tried to find a way forward through the courts. But they failed. They then switched focus back to Parliament and have been holding meetings, using their local hubs to lobby MPs and arranging for doctors and legislators from other parts of the world to tell MPs what their experiences have been.
Because there have been two General Elections since the vote in 2015 the make-up of the Commons has changed. There are new MPs whose position on the issue of assisted suicide is not necessarily known. One MP, though, who has become a vocal campaigner on this issue is Andrew Mitchell. Influential, well connected, and a capable communicator, it could very well be that he’ll be the voice of the next major push for assisted suicide in England and Wales.
Mr Mitchell believes there could be assisted suicide legislation being voted on by MPs within four years. He's confident minds are being changed, and that new legislation would pass.
I'm increasingly finding that people are speaking as if the legalisation of assisted suicide is inevitable. It's a bit like how some feel about Scottish independence: You don’t give up just because you lost a vote/referendum, you keep going, looking for fresh opportunities to make your case. Campaigners for assisted suicide are determined, well-funded and passionate about what they do.
Legalised assisted suicide sends a message that some people’s lives are not valuable
In our response, those of us who are opposed to assisted suicide and for expanding palliative care (and no, the two don’t go together – evidence suggests when you introduce assisted suicide, palliative care services suffer as a result…) need to be equally as passionate. We cannot simply sit back waiting for a new Bill to appear. Instead, we need to be braver, bolder and more willing to be criticised even as we speak truth into this incredibly sensitive debate.
A better story
I honestly believe that, as Christians, we have a better story when it comes to suffering at the end of life. Not only do we view suffering as something God uses to accomplish his incredible purposes to do us good and transform us into Christ’s likeness, but we also believe life’s value is not tied to our circumstances. You matter because you are you. So whether you are old or young, sick or well, disabled or not, you are utterly and indispensably valuable in God’s eyes because you bear his image. What legalised assisted suicide does is send a message that some people’s lives are not valuable at all, but disposable — to be ended simply because they’re old, tired or depressed.
In the state of Oregon in the USA, one of the most common reasons people give for assisted suicide is the fear of being a burden. As Christians, the better story we have says, ‘Be a burden and I’ll help you and care for you and constantly remind you that your dignity is intrinsic, not dependent on your own feelings or circumstances.’
During the coronavirus pandemic we’ve seen the lengths to which our society is prepared to go in order to protect the most vulnerable. How utterly inconsistent if we then permit doctors to kill patients.
Legalised assisted suicide is not inevitable. But we need to wake up. It’s not enough for us to simply write to our MP (although please, please do that!) we need to also pray and, above all, think more deeply about these issues. Read John Wyatt’s Matters of Life and Death, read the Open Future series on the Economist’s website, with contributions from those for and against assisted suicide. Learn to speak compassionately, graciously and sensitively on this topic. Be prepared to listen more than speak. Visit the CARE cause page for assisted suicide – it’s got a wealth of resources.
Jesus said, "Love your neighbour as you love yourself." So let’s love the most vulnerable and send a better message to those in pain, to the walking wounded and the sick and frail, that no matter how bad it gets, your value as a human being is unchanged and your dignity undiminished. Every person’s life is a gift from God, so let’s help each other steward that gift and find, even amidst the pain, moments of irreplaceable joy and freedom.
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