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18 June 2015

Assisted suicide puts vulnerable at risk

Assisted suicide puts vulnerable at risk

Assisted suicide is back on the table, this time in the House of Commons. Labour MP Rob Marris topped the ballot for private members' bills and chose to bring forward an Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill based largely on Lord Falconer's bill.

Falconer's bill sought to grant physician-assisted suicide for mentally competent terminally ill adults who have six months or less to live. Due to time constraints, Falconer's bill didn't complete its passage through the last parliament.

The Evangelical Alliance strongly opposes assisted suicide for a number of reasons:

  • Legalising assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed. 
  • Palliative care can provide properly for the needs of people. Evidence shows that the number of people wanting assisted suicide drops when they receive good palliative care. Our country has a rich tradition of quality care for the dying. We should continue to promote and invest in palliative care which, thanks to modern medicine, can effectively deal with most forms of physical pain and distress. Legalising assisted suicide risks a reduction in funding and desire to continue to improve palliative care.
  • The present law works well and doesn't need changing. It acts as a powerful deterrent to the exploitation of vulnerable people while also giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in challenging cases.Since the legalisation of assisted suicide and/or other forms of euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands it has become more and more commonplace –even being extended to children.

The Netherlands has seen a 15-20% increase in euthanasia cases every year since 2006. If the UK were to adopt Marris's bill which is based on the Oregon Model we could see 1,300 assisted suicide deaths each year. This is a massive increase compared with the 20 or so people annually who travel to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their lives.

The bill is expected to receive its all-important second reading on Friday, 11 September. This poses a couple of challenges. Firstly, there is a long summer recess directly before this reading which means MPs will be less available for meetings and responding to correspondence. MPs will return to parliament the week of 7 September, only a few days before the bill comes up in the House. If you haven't yet contacted your MP please do so in those crucial few daysYou can quickly and easily do this here.

The other challenge is that the second reading is on a Friday. More often than not there are fewer MPs in the House to vote on Friday. With this in mind we would ask that you specifically ask if your MP intends to be in Parliament on Friday and urge them to be there for this crucial vote.

Following Marris's announcement, MP Fiona Bruce took the opportunity during Prime Minister's Questions to ask the Prime Minister his view on assisted suicide. The Prime Minister confirmed he doesn't support assisted suicide and he specifically raised concerns about the pressure it would put on frail and elderly people.

The Care Not Killing Alliance, of which the Evangelical Alliance is a member, have rightly highlighted that Marris's intentions to push for assisted suicide stands in direct contrast with elected representatives' repeated refusals to consider a law which would undermine the position of disabled, elderly, sick and vulnerable people in society. Just last month the Scottish Parliament rejected the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. Earlier this year, the Isle of Man also declined to consider an assisted suicide bill. And late last year Wales also rejected a motion to support Lord Falconer's bill. In 2006 the House of Lords rejected Lord Joffe's assisted suicide bill and in 2009 they opposed Lord Falconer's amendment to the Coroners and Justice Act to achieve the same purpose.

The vast majority of UK doctors oppose legalising euthanasia, along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society.All major disability rights groups in Britain (including Disability Rights UK, SCOPE, UKDPC and Not Dead Yet UK) oppose any change in the law believing it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and increased pressure on disabled people to end their lives.

In opposing this bill we are not seeking to trivialise or ignore the pain and suffering many people endure. At the heart of Christian faith is the belief that life is a sacred gift from God;it is not ours to decide when it should end. We are stewards, not the owners of the life God has entrusted to us. So we have a responsibility to promote a culture of life rather than one of hopelessness for people in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

It is crucial that MPs hear from you, their constituents. The vote will be a conscience vote so parties won't be determining which way MPs votes. It will make such a difference for MPs to hear your personal stories and concern about this issue. It only takes a few minutes to email your MP or write them a letter. Better yet, arrange to meet with them. You can find your MP's contact details here.

Those supporting assisted suicide talk often about the right to choose. And they are correct. We do have a choice. We can choose to support a society which as the Telegraph's Tim Stanley aptly describes, "quietly, subtly, maybe subconsciously encourages others to remove their burden of existence from the shoulders of other people".

Or we can choose to support a society which upholds the inherent dignity and value of every individual. A society which protects our most vulnerable, especially the terminally ill, the disabled and the elderly. A society which as the Bishop of Plymouth says, "cherishes life in all its vulnerability".

Useful resources

You can view details of the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill on the parliament website

Cardinal Nichols is urging people to speak up for the most vulnerable in societyand ask their MPs to oppose the bill.The Diocese of Westminster and Catholic Bishops Conference have produced a helpful Q&A on the bill

Member organisation CARE has a range of helpful information about Marris's bill and end of life issues.

Care Not Killing have a range of information available on the bill and the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre has produced some excellent resources including a two-page briefing outlining eight reasons why physician assisted suicide shouldn't be legalised