01 September, 2015

Homily on Assisted Suicide - Marris Bill

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days (Psalm 39:40)
Jan Provoost - The Last Judgement
There is a rather pressing subject that will come increasingly to the attention of the national media over the coming days and as your parish priest, I feel I must address this. I am talking about assisted suicide, a subject which will be debated by the House of Commons on 11th September as the Marris Bill under the highly sanitised name of Assisted Dying, or Dignity in Dying. I fully understand that this is a thorny subject that attracts a great variety of views, even in this church, and it may bring back to mind the great hurt many of us have experienced in watching loved ones dying… Yet, it is a subject that ought to be addressed by Church in order to prevent further evil. Last year, I preached about assisted suicide looking at it from a secular point of view, but today I would like to offer a few pointers for religious reflection.

The Bill that will be introduced to the Commons is very similar to the one presented to the House of Lords last year – Lord Falconer’s Bill which run out of time before the general election. This Bill, which in turn is modelled on the one adopted by the State of Oregon in 1998, would allow individuals of sound mind, with ‘clear and settled intentions’ to terminate their lives with the help of physicians who if they were given no more than six months to live. Two doctors would have to evaluate the request and a senior judge could be requested to rule on the matter. After this, the help of physicians would be limited to prescribing lethal drugs to the person.

I understand that this Bill has rather a lot of supporters, and everyone seems to have an opinion on why our society should allow people to kill themselves with the help of the medical profession. Very often these opinions are based on personal experiences of seeing others suffer, on “gut feelings”, or on the idea that society has become so individualistic that one should be allowed to whatever they well like with their lives – even end it when there seem to be much prospect of health. In our Church too these ideas have crept in; for example a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has been outspoken about Assisted Suicide affirming that is a
‘profoundly Christian and moral thing’.

A ‘profoundly Christian and moral thing.’ To be honest, I am not sure where Lord Carey, a high-flying evangelical Bishop in his days, gets his sense of “profound Christianity” and “morality” from, but it is not the Bible. According to Matthew’s gospel, at the Final Judgement, Our Lord will to the blessed, ‘I was sick and you took care of me’ and you visited me (Matthew 25:36); He will not say to them “I was sick and you prescribed me a lethal drug”. Or again perhaps Lord Carey is reading an alternative version the parable of the Samaritan, something that goes like this,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance …a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and [helped him end his sufferings by giving him lethal drugs.] Then he went off again on his way”. (Cf. Luke 10).

The Bishop of Buckingham, a person whom I admire for the strength of his convictions, and his chaplain have also come out in support of the principle behind the Bill, yet the official position of the Church has not changed and should not change. The religious implications would be huge, if the Church were to support assisted suicide.
How would we justify our support for this Bill before God ?
How would we plead before God, when both the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church tell us to show true compassion to those who suffer and when the only example of assisted suicide in the Bible is dictated by pride (King Saul’s death wish, Cf. 1Samuel 21)?
There are further implications, however, which concern wider society. First, at a time of financial constraints posed on the NHS, palliative care may become seen as an expensive, needless luxury, when people are given the choice of opting out of the cheaper, quicker option. Day after day we see mounting criticisms towards the weaker in society who seem to “waste” precious welfare resources… How would society react towards those who may wish to continue making full use of or expand end of life care.
Second, the elderly and the disabled would increasingly be put under pressure by a Bill that, although not affecting them directly, assesses a person’s life based on their physical “fitness” rather than on the mere fact of their humanity.
Third, the unspoken moral pressure would be fall on people to do the “right thing” and get out of the way of relatives and loved ones. In fact, in Oregon, ‘40% of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family’ (Scope Charity 2014).
Fourth, further legal challenges to the Bill are already on the horizon, and they would open the floodgates for others to legally kill themselves; so if the Bills were to pass, what about people living day-in day-out with chronic pain? What about those affected by severe depression? What about those who cannot physically do the deed themselves?

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days.
This is not scaremongering. These are serious causes of concerns already flagged up by different groups in our society that would not otherwise have much in common; both religions and secular charities, atheists groups, alliances of doctors, right and left-wing journalists, and others.
The Church should stand her ground for the protection of life in all its forms, and the messiness of it all – whatever or personal feelings on the matter might be. So, please, as you parish priest as ask you if you could write to your MP, and ask him to oppose this Bill.

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