Why we should not legalise assisted suicide

Jan 7, 2018 by

 by Chris Sugden, Christian Today:

In a recent article ( Time to die? by Canon Rosie Harper) the case for a more ‘liberal’ approach to assisted suicide was based on the argument that individual choice and radical individual isolationism trump the reality of human existence as set in families and communities, and within boundaries.

An important dimension in this debate is the opportunity and ability of different groups to participate, both at the level of principle (what should the law be) and at the practical level (the consequences of applying such a law to individual cases).

Assisted suicide
ReutersOpponents to a bill legalising assisted suicide hold placards outside Parliament in Westminster, 2015

The argument must extend well beyond people whom life has treated well and who have been used to exercising a wide range of choice throughout their lives. We also need to hear from people whose experience of life has been routinely miserable. Also, we need to hear from the weak and the vulnerable, for example the interests and feelings of spouses, children and grandchildren. Human society is not composed of isolated autonomous individuals, but of people set in networks of relationships. Can we ensure that the vulnerable and those around them are not put into the positon of feeling that their carers and medics consider it would be better that they were put down?

A second important dimension is the pressure of unfettered egalitarianism. Once rights for a minority group are enshrined in law, egalitarian lobbies are likely to use equality legislation to ensure that in time they are normalised for all. For example, in May 2017 the Bishop of Swindon asked in a conference in Oxford whether it was acceptable to transfer the burden of this problem to the rest of society and change the relationship between physicians and patients, as appears to be the preferred solution of many liberals. It shifts the burden of dealing with a problem onto the rest of society and changes matters usually for the worse for the majority of individual people.

A third dimension of the argument advanced in the blog engages with the centuries old debates over the relationship between God’s will and human free will. Rather than simply denying (disobeying? ignoring?) God’s will, a better way through this maze is to view God as a master chess player: whatever move we freely make, his will in the end will prevail. It is a grotesque caricature of the God of the Bible to present the divine being as a ‘command and control’ God, a sort of big daddy who knows best and will be cross with you if you disagree. That is certainly not the Christian view.

In recent years both the House of Commons (September 11, 2015) and the Church of England’s General Synod (February 6, 2012) have voted overwhelmingly against legalising assisted suicide. It would surely be better if the resources being poured into the seemingly endless campaigning for, and therefore against, legalising assisted suicide, could be spent instead on providing better end of life care for all.

Canon Dr Chris Sugden is chair of Anglican Mainstream.


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