Legalising assisted suicide would damage the shape of our society by putting vulnerable people at risk, the Church of England has warned.
The comments come as MPs prepare to vote on Rob Marris’ assisted suicide Bill in September.
Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Church of England’s national adviser on medical ethics, said that every person’s life is of “immeasurable value and ought to be affirmed, respected and cherished”.
“This attitude is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error and risk eroding carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for a society that respects and cares for all.”
He warned that the provisions of the Bill would only “add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support”.
And he raised concerns about proposed safeguards in the Bill, pointing out that: “Rigorous regulation and careful monitoring have not prevented the most serious lapses of trust and care in some parts of the NHS and within a number of care homes”.
Truly compassionate society
Revd Dr McCarthy said that energies must be directed towards better access to high-quality palliative care and enhanced end of life services, which are the hallmarks of a “truly compassionate society”.
Director of think-tank Living and Dying Well Agnes Fletcher, who is also disabled, pointed out that as a society every effort is made to discourage people from committing suicide.
Writing for online magazine The Commentator, she said: “We respond compassionately to people who feel suicidal, whatever the source of their distress, and whether or not we can resolve all the issues that they face.
“We have national suicide prevention policies and suicide watches in prisons. Once exceptions are made to that clear principle of not encouraging or assisting suicide, we are all more vulnerable”.
Fletcher also raised concerns that the Bill allows assisted suicide for people who are expected to have six months or left to live.
She said, “as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has made clear, predicting death in terms of months rather than hours or days is extremely difficult – ‘the margin of error can extend into years'”.
And she questioned how doctors are possibly able to assess whether someone has a “settled wish” to die or has been “subject to undue influence”.
Fletcher noted that we do not know what “checks and balances” would be in place to ensure that someone has met the criteria for assisted suicide: “In effect, Parliament is being asked to legalise physician-assisted suicide without anyone, apparently, understanding what safeguards, if any, are planned.”
She referred to Washington state in the US where two-thirds of those ‘choosing’ assisted suicide cite “being a burden” as one of their reasons.
“This is why legalising, ‘assisted dying’ and grounding it within clinical practice, with the social approval that entails, can be seen not just as assisting but encouraging suicide too.”