A dying clergyman’s plea for assisted suicide to remain against the law has been circulated to every Peer in the House of Lords by the Church of England, ahead of a debate on the issue tomorrow.
The Church is opposed to Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide bill and has given a copy of Revd Jones’ letter to Peers, according to The Independent.
Before Revd Christopher Jones died of cancer in 2012, he wrote in a personal reflection that the legal prohibition on assisted suicide was “immensely helpful”, because at certain points he may have been open to the option of ending his life.
“In hindsight, I now know that had I taken this course, I would have been denied the unexpected and joyful experience of being ‘recalled to life’ as I now am”, he wrote.
“In the light of my experience, it is of prime importance that the law should signal the priority of the preservation of life – not at all costs but as the default option”, he added.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned last week that elderly and disabled people would be “put under pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide were permitted by law”.
In Revd Jones’ letter, he said, “my experience has reinforced my conviction that the law prohibiting assisted suicide is an essential bulwark against well-meaning but unwarranted judgments about the value of life and the desirability of ending it in order to minimise or eliminate suffering”.
“In my view, suffering is inescapable in this situation, and ought not to be allowed to trump all other considerations, especially when palliative care is taken into account.”
Meanwhile, a human rights organisation that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia has questioned a key ‘safeguard’ in Lord Falconer’s bill – that only patients thought to have six months or less to live could obtain lethal drugs.
Margaret Dore, who is a lawyer and president of the US group ‘Choice is an Illusion’, pointed out that “eligible” patients may have years, even decades, to live, because “predicting life expectancy is not an exact science”.
Dore highlighted the case of a resident in Oregon – which passed a similar law to Lord Falconer’s bill – who was diagnosed with cancer and decided she wanted help to kill herself.
But her doctor “didn’t believe in assisted suicide and encouraged her to be treated instead. It is now 14 years later and she is ‘thrilled’ to be alive”.
Dore also noted that in Oregon, the term ‘terminal’ now includes conditions such as diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease.
She quoted a doctor from the state, who explained: “Persons with these conditions are considered terminal if they are dependent on their medications, such as insulin, to live.”
Peers in Westminster are set to debate Lord Falconer’s bill tomorrow.