Response to Lord Carey and Rabbi Jonathan Romain on ‘doctor assisted dying’

Sep 14, 2021 by

by Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church of England’s National Adviser on Medical Ethics and Health and Social Care Policy in a letter to the editor, BMJ:

The representatives of ‘a new religious alliance in support of doctor assisted dying’ have stated that they wish to counter ‘the impression being conveyed that all faith groups are implacably opposed to changes in the law to help people longing to die on their own terms, without discomfort, indignity, or extreme pain.’

The Church of England does not oppose enabling people to die well; that is a goal shared with every palliative care professional, hospice worker and healthcare chaplain. Its opposition is to a change in the current law on assisted suicide.[2]

This distinction is not a matter of semantics; it is a legal imperative.

The writers assert that on this issue, Church leaders are out of touch with their members and cite opinion polls to that effect. The arguments for and against assisted suicide are complex and cannot be addressed in an opinion poll. The Church of England debates serious issues with serious intent, not least through its elected, representative bodies at deanery, diocesan and national level. The General Synod has voted unequivocally, to oppose a change in the current law on assisted suicide.[3] Correctly, policy is decided by informed debate, not by opinion polls.

The appeal to Biblical ‘proof-texts’, employed by the authors is not indicative of Anglican hermeneutics in which a respectful, reasoned reading of the texts illuminates the narrative and theological arcs and motifs contained in the Scriptures. From these (not proof-texts), emanate core beliefs and principles.[4] These principles reflect Christian theological beliefs, but can be shared by people of other faiths or of none.

In the context of this brief response to the authors’ article, the principle of caring for the vulnerable requires considered examination though it is also the case that any shift in the law or societal norms that undermines our egalitarian commitment to the intrinsic value of every human life or anything that lessens our relational and societal bonds with one another is deeply flawed.

The authors speak of ‘safeguards’ to ensure that vulnerable people are not put at risk and reference the provisions of the ‘Meacher Bill’. Safeguards on paper, however, are worthless unless they can be consistently, universally and comprehensively translated into practice.

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