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04 September 2015

Speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves

Speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves

by Peter Saunders

Labour MP Rob Marris wants to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales. His Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill would allow physician-assisted suicide for mentally competent adults judged to have less than six months to live.

Mr Marris’s Bill is essentially the same as Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, which ran out of parliamentary time in the House of Lords prior to the last general election.

The all-important second reading of Mr Marris’s bill will be held in the Commons on Friday, 11 September. It is essential that MPs turn up en masse and vote it out at that stage.

Before then, we need to contact our MP about this important issue. We only have a few days to do this. Contact your MP now.

But maybe some of you are wondering what this has to do with you. Well, nothing at all – unless you’re human that is. Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden on others. It would also encourage those with an emotional or financial interest in another person’s death to apply subtle means of coercion. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.

Experience in other jurisdictions, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and the American states of Oregon and Washington, shows clearly that any change in the law to allow assisted suicide, or any other form of euthanasia, leads to ‘incremental extension’ and ‘mission creep’ - a steady annual increase in numbers and a broadening of categories of those to be included - from mentally competent to incompetent, from terminal to chronic illness, from adults to children, from assisted suicide to euthanasia. Once started, this process will be almost impossible to police.

It’s also worth noting that the bill gives huge power to doctors without proper accountability and its so-called safeguards are paper thin. As we have seen already with the Abortion Act, a small number of doctors will push its boundaries and will be very difficult to regulate.

In Genesis 1:26 we learn that human beings are unique among God’s creatures in being made in the image of God. It is on this basis, after the flood, that God introduces the prohibition against killing legally innocent people in Genesis 9:6-7. This is later formalised in the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17).

Other passages in the Old Testament such as Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:17-21, 2 Kings 21:16, Numbers 35:16-31, Deuteronomy 19:4-13, Psalms 106:37 and Jeremiah 19:4 define ‘murder’ unambiguously as the "intentional killing of an innocent human being".

Euthanasia and assisted suicide clearly fall within this biblical definition. The Bible makes no provision for compassionate killing, even at the person’s request, and there is no recognition of a ‘right to die’ as all human life belongs to God, seen in Psalms 24:1. Our lives are not actually our own. Suicide, and therefore assisted suicide, is therefore equally morally wrong.

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22) that we should go beyond the mere letter of the sixth commandment to fulfil the very spirit of love on which it is based. In 1 John 2:6, Ephesians 5:1-2 and John 13:34-35 we learn we are called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to be imitators of God, to love as He himself loved; to walk in the way of the cross.

God calls us to give our whole selves to the love and service of others by expending our time, money and energy in finding compassionate solutions and offering hope to those who suffer which we see in Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 8:34, Philippians 2:4-11 and Galatians 6:2-10. This has found practical shape historically in the hospice movement and in good palliative care - pioneered in large part by Christian doctors and nurses.

Persistent requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for, so our priority must surely be to ensure that good care - addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs - is accessible to all.

The present law in England and Wales, which makes assisted suicide illegal, is clear and right. The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse, while giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in hard cases. It does not need changing.

This is why Christians should take up their pens and write to their MPs encouraging them to oppose the bill and vote against it.

Resistance is not futile. As a result of the voices of concerned citizens, including many Christians, we saw Patrick Harvie's assisted suicide bill defeated earlier this year in the Scottish Parliament by 82 votes to 36.

Let’s pray and work together to see off the Marris Bill. It will be a tougher challenge, but at such a time as this we need to speak out on behalf of vulnerable people who are being put at huge risk.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." (Proverbs 31:8)

Dr Peter Saunders is campaign director for Care Not Killing and chief executive of Christian Medical Fellowship. Contact your MP here.