Assisted dying would be ‘profoundly Christian and moral’ – former Archbishop of Canterbury
Lord Carey dismisses ‘pain is noble’ claim as Church of England brands assisted dying criminally naive
Allowing doctors to help terminally ill people to take their own lives would be a “profoundly Christian and moral thing” to do, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has insisted.
He dismissed arguments that enduring pain at the end of life is a “noble thing” and insisted that proper legal safeguards could be devised to ensure vulnerable people are not pressurised into ending their lives by greedy relatives.
His remarks, ahead of a Commons vote on assisted dying, underline a growing rift with the official position of the Church he once led.
It came as one senior Church of England official condemned the attempts to change Britain’s euthanasia laws as “criminally naive”.
The Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church’s national adviser on medical ethics, claimed that dying people would “most certainly” be put at risk by a change in the law.
The row erupted ahead of a debate next month which amounts to the first ever serious attempt in the House of Commons to overturn the ban on assisted suicide.
- MPs to be given historic right-to-die vote
- Assisted dying: judges could decide whether terminally ill should be allowed to die
Rob Marris, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, is use a guaranteed slot for backbench legislation to bring proposals put forward by Lord Falconer in the Lords last year to the elected house.
Photo: Express & Star/Christopher Pledger
The new Assisted Dying Bill would allow patients thought to have no more than six months to live and who had demonstrated a “clear and settled intention” to end their lives to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs on the authority of two doctors.
It also includes extra safeguards introduced by Peers during discussion of Lord Falconer’s bill giving a High Court judge a role in any future system of assisted dying.
Lord Carey, who has maintained a strongly conservative stance on questions such as gay marriage, stunned the Church of England last year by announcing that he had changed his mind on the issue of assisted dying.
He used a short video promoted by the campaign group Dignity in Dying to underline his support for the new bill.
“Some people have said on the issue of compassion that actually pain is a noble thing, to bear pain and to say that we are suffering with you is, in my view, a very poor argument indeed,” he said.
“There is nothing noble about excruciating pain and I think we need as a nation to give people the right to decide their own fate.
“And in my view it is a profoundly Christian and moral thing to devise a law that enables people, if they so choose, to end their lives with dignity.”
But in an interview with Premier Christian Radio, Dr McCarthy said: “Some half a million elderly people are abused each year, now to think that if an assisted dying bill were passed that some of those wouldn’t
be put under pressure to think of ending their lives, I think, would be criminally naive.”
I remember attending a series of seminars on ‘Christian Ethics’ in the early 1970s at the Church of All Saints, Margaret Street, London, as part of the ‘Institute of Christian Studies’ hosted at that central London fortress of Anglo-Catholic spirituality by the local clergy.
One of the discussions was concerned with this very subject; should doctors be allowed to give palliative medicine in order to enable a patient to die in circumstances where extension of medical care might cause undue pain and suffering?
Of two doctors present in the seminar group, we were led to understand that this practice is not entirely unknown in the medical profession – in cases where the patient has clearly expressed the wish to undergo no further treatment to extend their life, in a situation of severe loss of quality of life’s comfort through the presence of pain and anxiety on the part of the patient.
In the same series of lectures, we were treated to a talk by a medical professional working in the English Hospice Care movement, sponsored by Doctor Cicely Saunders, explaining what was already being done to provide the best possible care for terminally ill patients, whose relatives were unable to provide them with the level of care needed.
As part of a study group connected with this series of ethical questions, I was privileged to pay a day-long visit to the Dorothy Kerin Home of Healing at Burrwood, Kent, where the provision of specialist medical and spiritual care of seriously ill patients was undertaken, with the expectation that, in the atmosphere of a specifically Christian community, patients would have every chance of being healed of whatever ailed them! Having read a book about Dorothy Kerin’s remarkable ministry of healing after her own miraculous recovery from a serious illness, I was prepared to find encouraging stories of healing that had been achieved through the collaborative ministry of medical and spiritual resources at Burrwood. I was not disappointed.
As a result of these experiences, my own understanding of the Ministry of Healing is that is indeed present in the Church, and we neglect its provision to our eternal deficit.
However,I am also profoundly aware that there are people who suffer constantly chronic, debilitating pain and anguish in illnesses which have no hopeful prognosis, and who wish only for a peaceful and pain-free exit from this life. I can no longer believe that their personal hardship – when the prospect of alleviation lies only in an existence without any redemptive features to commend extension of life in their particular circumstances – should not be able to be medically dealt with by every lawful means at our disposal. I now believe that medical intervention should be allowed to facilitate the ending of such an existence.
I am surprised, though, that ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, should now have come around to this idea. His opposition to other contentious justice issues is well-known. Despite his acceptance that divorce and re-marriage are no longer taboo in the Church; he is still, apparently, convinced that Gay people are not qualified to minister in his Church, and has been very active in support of anti-Gay legislation in the past.
Miracles are not unknown in the Church of England. Perhaps Bishop George might yet see his conscience cleared on the issue of issue of Same-Sex Marriage. Although, myself, I wouldn’t be willing to place a bet on it.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand