Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on 18th July. The issue keeps on returning, and probably will until the 'right answer' is secured in a parliamentary vote. Resistance is futile; the 'right to die' is enlightenment progress.
The Church of England's position
on this matter is (refreshingly) unequivocal:
The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.. Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England's concerns about any proposal to change the law. Our position on the current Bill before parliament is also consistent with the approach taken by the Archbishops' Council, House of Bishops and with successive resolutions of the General Synod.
Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication. Every human being is uniquely and equally valuable, hence human rights are built on the foundation of the 'right to life', as is much of the criminal code. An obligation on society, doctors and nurses, to take life or to assist in the taking of life would create a new and unwelcome role for society.
Notwithstanding this, Canon Rosie Harper
, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, gave a speech to peers a few weeks ago in which she not only set out a position which was diametrically opposed to the Church of England's stated belief, she attacked those who oppose it as immoral and un-Christian. Here is the brief speech in its entirety (apologies for the skewed scan, but that's how it was received):
His Grace tweeted
about this yesterday, because he found the final paragraph astonishing in its starkness and cruelty. Here is a Canon of the Established Church telling Peers of the Realm that should they oppose Lord Falconer's Bill, they are "requiring people to suffer extreme agony", and so voting in a manner which is neither moral nor Christian.
She made no mention at all of the Church's official position. Presumably, the Archbishops' Council, the House of Bishops and the General Synod are all immoral and un-Christian for opposing the Bill.
Here is His Grace's Twitter conversation with the Canon:
The first thing to note is the Canon's response to His Grace's first tweet: he said he found her speech cruel and stark, but the Canon is of the view that to say so is "tweeting most unpleasantly", with the inference that it was a misrepresentation of her views, which she insists are compassionate. She later suggests that His Grace "extrapolated", but her meaning is plain to all who can read: those of us who oppose her views (like the House of Bishops, Archbishops' Council and Synod) are uncompassionate. Indeed, she responds directly to His Grace's question: those who oppose her are concerned with arid theology and unfeeling theory as against her manifestly compassionate praxis.
She appears to be of the view that simply because her uncle was able to make a considered decision to journey to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life surrounded by a loving family, and because this worked for him and all of them, that all individuals and families must have access to the same 'compassion'. She appears oblivious to the intolerable pressure this might (indeed, will) place on some who are dying, just as she was oblivious to the number of peers she offended with her assertion that their motive is to "require" the dying "to suffer extreme agony" simply to assuage their own consciences.
Some of the Peers who listened to the speech are Christian church-goers, who were aggrieved by the crass reasoning. One of them was not a church-goer, and has intimated that the Canon has ensured that now she never will be.
Note the allegation of 'conscience', as though the theology of those who oppose the Bill were simply a question of the assertion of callous, subjective individuality.
Death is not simply a divine distalgesic: it is the passing of the soul to judgment and into eternity. Hitherto, God has determined the number of our days. Lord Falconer and Canon Rosie Harper are of the view that people should be assisted to kill themselves, should they so require. This is about 'rights' and 'choice' and 'compassion' and 'dignity in dying', because leaving it all to God is a manifest denial of rights and choice, totally lacking in compassion and devoid of any dignity whatsoever. Death can be painful and messy, so let's make it quick and clinical.
Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life are cruelly putting our 'conscience' above 'compassion', and we all know how that language game works.
Canon Harper insists no one will be coerced. But wedges have thin ends, and slopes can be awfully slippery. Make no mistake, this is a step toward terminating the lives of the sick and vulnerable, not to mention those who feel worthless, depressed, lonely, unloved and unvalued. They may not be forced to die, but they will certainly feel
less of a burden on their families and on society if their deaths were to be hastened.
Instead of demanding the right to die, the Church ought to be concerned with optimism, hope and improving palliative care. Indeed, the Church is prioritising these things, but Canon Harper is not. Her mode of compassion prioritises the eradication of suffering, and those who oppose her in her quest are immoral and un-Christian. There is no debate to be had or doubt in her mind.
The suffering of Job was immense: his mental anguish and physical pain made him desire death, and he cried out for it. Had he been 'assisted' to that end, he would not have seen his vindication and God's glory would not have been revealed. He wasn't protected by a 'six months to live' clause, but his comforters wouldn't have been overly concerned about that. Your GP might know you have nine months or year to live, but he'll compassionately give you six so you may legally make the choice to 'die with dignity'. Once the legal right is embedded in our culture, there will be incremental nudges toward expectation and thence to the Belgian option
, where they are legally euthanising their children. What is that if it is not immoral and un-Christian?
The anxieties and traumas of life are not pointless; nor is the morphine in our dying. It adds to our human experience, and witnesses to our divine purpose and profound meaning.
Canon Rosie Harper is wrong and gravely misguided.
But His Grace - who was once given a matter of months to live - is not so self-righteous or arrogant as to say that her attitude is neither moral nor Christian.