CARE: Christian Action, Research and Education

Assisted Suicide
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All life has intrinsic value and dignity – regardless of its condition. We recognise how immensely difficult it is to suffer or to see a loved one enduring pain, but, as Christians, we are called to protect those who are vulnerable and assist people to live – not to commit suicide. CARE therefore strongly opposes a change to the law on assisted suicide in the UK, and we work to support truly compassionate approaches to care at the end of life being articulated in our parliaments and assemblies.

We want to see a society that truly upholds the dignity of every life and where laws protect those who are vulnerable – particularly those who would feel pressure to end their lives for fear of being a burden on others.

Together we can fight against attempts to change the law on assisted suicide, ensuring that vulnerable people are protected. We can advocate for excellent palliative care, so that those at the end of their lives have healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing suffering.

Topic primer

Assisted suicide is where a doctor helps a patient to kill themselves by prescribing a lethal drug for the patient to take. This becomes euthanasia when the doctor administers the drug directly.

There has been much debate in the UK in recent years over issues concerning the end of life.

On one level, suffering – particularly struggling towards the end of life – is to be avoided. It is something which many fear and can be intensely painful for both the sufferer and loved ones who feel powerless to act. However, we believe that any discussion about suffering, life and death must be framed in the context of faith in a sovereign God who is supremely in control, whose love and attention does not waver according to circumstances and whose ways are beyond our understanding.

Fundamentally, we are deeply concerned that any law which legalises assisted suicide or euthanasia will fatally undermine human dignity and what it means to be created in God’s likeness. The law has a duty to protect, and people who are suicidal due to illness or disability need to be cared for, not helped to kill themselves. The current law sends the message that all lives are worthwhile, regardless of the contribution that person can make to society or whether the individual believes their own life to be worthless. If assisted suicide becomes an option for patients, the ‘right to die’ could become a ‘duty to die’ for those who feel they are a burden on other people. This is evidenced in Oregon, where 55% of those requesting assisted suicide cited fear of being a burden as influencing their decision. This is why all major disability-rights groups in Britain oppose any change in the law, arguing that it will lead to increase prejudice against them and pressure to end their lives.

The current law is the best safeguard against the abuse we have seen in jurisdictions that have changed the law. There has been incremental expansion in the law in all the jurisdictions, where ‘safeguards’ to protect against abuse have gradually eroded. These places have evidenced that there is no way by which any law legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia can be made safe from abuse or negligence, resulting in the death of innocent people. One of the worst examples of this is the Netherlands where thousands of patients have been killed who did not request it, disabled babies have been given lethal injections, and depressed 12-year olds are helped to end their lives.

Society has a duty to alleviate suffering by killing pain, not by killing the patient. A doctor’s role is to be a healer, and true dignity in dying is to have one’s physical, social and spiritual needs met. We must therefore ensure that everyone has access to good quality palliative care at the end of their lives. Indeed the UK has been described as having the best palliative care in the world, and is one of the only countries that recognises palliative care as a specialism. There is evidence that in countries that have legalised assisted suicide that palliative care is not prioritised, and there have been cases where patients have requested assisted suicide because they are not receiving good palliative care or are unable to access it.

CARE works with partner organisations to defend the value of life in society. We are members of the Care Not Killing alliance and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe. A key part of our work lies in encouraging MPs and Peers to stand up for the vulnerable in the Houses of Parliament on palliative care, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

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What is assisted suicide?

What's the difference between assisted suicide and assisted dying? Is euthanasia different from assisted suicide? Find out more about the terms used in the assisted suicide debate.

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Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff
We should not for­get that laws are more than just reg­u­lat­ory instru­ments. They also send power­ful social mes­sages. An assisted dying law sends the sub­lim­in­al mes­sage, how­ever unin­ten­ded by legis­lat­ors, that if we are ter­min­ally ill tak­ing our own lives is some­thing we should consider.
Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff Professor of Palliative Medicine & Crossbench Peer

The arguments

For

The arguments for assisted suicide:

1. We need it - 'the compassion argument'. Supporters of assisted suicide believe that allowing people to ‘die with dignity’ is kinder than forcing them to continue their lives with suffering.

2. We want it - 'the autonomy argument'. Some believe that every patient has a right to choose when to die.

3. We can control it - 'the public policy argument'. Proponents believe that assisted suicide can be safely regulated by government legislation.

Against

The arguments against assisted suicide:

1. Alternative treatments are available, such as palliative care and hospices. We do not have to kill the patient to kill the symptoms. Nearly all pain can be relieved.

2.There is no ‘right’ to be killed and there are real dangers of ‘slippery slopes’. Opening the doors to voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide could lead to non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, by giving doctors the power to decide when a patient’s life is not worth living. In the Netherlands in 1990 around 1,000 patients were killed without their request.

3. We could never truly control it. Reports from the Netherlands, where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are legal, reveal that doctors do not always report it.

4. The assumption that patients should have a right to die would impose on doctors a duty to kill, thus restricting the autonomy of the doctor. Also, a ‘right to die’ for some people might well become a ‘duty to die’ by others, particularly those who are vulnerable or dependent upon others.

CARE’s Perspective: Why say 'No' to Euthanasia and assisted suicide?

What about personal choice?

The pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide lobby emphasise the importance of personal choice and autonomy. Shouldn’t patients have the right to end their lives? Dignity in Dying patron, Sir Patrick Stewart has argued “We have no control over how we arrive in the world but at the end of life we should have control over how we leave it.”

Surely however the debate is not about the right to die; it is about the right to help patients kill themselves. Instead of giving freedom to patients, euthanasia and assisted suicide is about giving other people the legal power to end another person’s life.

Assisted suicide is not a private act. Nobody chooses assisted suicide in isolation. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are matters of public concern because they involve one person facilitating the death of another. Friends, relatives, healthcare staff and society are hugely affected by the wider ramifications of the process.

Journalist and author George Pitcher has said that any change in the law would have “profound adverse affects on the social fabric of our society, on our attitudes towards each other’s deaths and illnesses, on our attitudes towards those who are ill and have disabilities.”

Increased autonomy would apply only if you met all the criteria to be eligible. If you had a disease where the prognosis is not straightforward, dementia or a chronic but not terminal disease, then you would not meet the criteria; attempts to extend the law further would be almost inevitable. Assisted suicide is not a private act and there is a real risk that a ‘right to die’ may soon become a ‘duty to die’.

What about compassion?

The pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide lobby will often present the view that helping someone else to end their life is the most loving and compassionate thing to do. But surely the most compassionate thing to do is to care for a person at the end of their life and to show them that their life has tremendous value regardless of age or abilities.

Palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. Britain is the only country in the world where palliative care is a recognised medical specialism. Further, in a recent survey by The Economist Britain was ranked first in the world for quality end-of-life care. The survey took in 40 OECD and non-OECD countries, including the USA, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

What about the most vulnerable?

Changing the law to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide will inevitably put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed. Some would face the added risk of coercion by others who might stand to gain from their deaths. Fear and anxiety would be promoted rather than Individual autonomy.

In its 1994 report The House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics concluded:

“It was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused. We were also concerned that vulnerable people – the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed – would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.”

The law must protect the most vulnerable people in society. We must never let the depressed, the confused, those in terrible pain, the aged and the vulnerable feel that they should pursue the path of assisted suicide so as not to be a burden on others.

Dr Andrew Fergusson, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, has said “the simple truth is that the current law exists to protect those without a voice: the disabled, terminally ill and elderly, who might otherwise feel pressured into ending their lives”.

What next?

Studies concerning the euthanasia and assisted suicide law in countries that have legalised such measures make for troubling reading.

A study conducted in 2012 shows that 32% of the assisted deaths in Belgium are carried out without request and 47% of assisted deaths go unreported in the Flanders region of Belgium. Another recent study found that nurses are regularly euthanasing their patients in Belgium even though the laws prohibits it. Since euthanasia was legalised in 2002 there has not been one attempt to prosecute for abuses of the euthanasia law. In addition to this the study shows there was a 25% increase in the number of assisted deaths in Belgium in 2012.

In Oregon (where assisted suicide was legalised in 1997) the law has led to patients ‘doctor shopping’ for willing practitioners, using doctors who have minimal knowledge of their past. In 2008, 50 per cent of patients requesting suicide were assisted to die by a doctor who had been their physician for eight weeks or less.

Not all people who are terminally ill wish to end their life.

There have been tragic cases of people suffering terminable illness who want other people to help them end their life. It is important however that we do not lose sight of the large number of people who are terminally ill and have found richness and purpose in life despite the pain and hardship.

A survey published by the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that the majority of patients who are almost completely paralysed but fully conscious have said they are happy and do not want to die. The survey questioned 168 members of the French Association for Locked-in Syndrome.

Matthew Hampson was a promising young rugby player until a collapsing scrum left him paralysed from the neck down and requiring a ventilator to breathe. Matt divides his time between raising money for spinal care for UK charity Spinal Research, coaching youngsters at local schools and writing columns for rugby magazines. He has also written an autobiography. The Matt Hampson Foundation provides help, advice and for young people seriously injured through sport.

All life has profound human value.

We have to make clear that the value of life should not be determined by its benefit to others, or what it can contribute to society. The French biologist and philosopher Jean Rostand once said: “For my part I believe that there is no life so degraded, debased, deteriorated, or impoverished that it does not deserve respect and is not worth defending with zeal and conviction.

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René Girard
The exper­i­ence of death is going to get more and more pain­ful, con­trary to what many people believe. The forth­com­ing euthanas­ia will make it more rather than less pain­ful because it will put the emphas­is on per­son­al decision in a way which was bliss­fully ali­en to the whole prob­lem of dying in former times. It will make death even more sub­ject­ively intol­er­able, for people will feel respons­ible for their own deaths and mor­ally oblig­ated to rid their rel­at­ives of their unwanted pres­ence. Euthanas­ia will fur­ther intensi­fy all the prob­lems its advoc­ates think it will solve.”
René Girard Philosopher

Resources

Here are a range of resources to help you dig deeper on the issue of assisted suicide.

The Debate of the Century: What does it mean to be human?

The Debate of the Cen­tury: What does it mean to be human?

Is it always wrong to take innocent human life? Peter Singer, Princeton bioethicist debates Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D on this important topic.

watch
The Economist Open Future: The case for and against assisted dying

The Eco­nom­ist Open Future: The case for and against assisted dying

As part of their Open Future initiative, The Economist asked proponents and opponents of assisted dying to write for them. CARE was a contributor.

Read more
The Economist Open Futures: The slippery slope of assisted dying is real

The Eco­nom­ist Open Futures: The slip­pery slope of assisted dying is real

by CARE's James Mildred

In this article, James Mildred, CARE's Communications Manager, explains why he opposes a change in the law to assisted suicide.

read the article
Live and Let Live

Live and Let Live

by Dr Peter Saunders

This Live and Let Live booklet by Dr. Peter Saunders, Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, explores what the Bible has to say about euthanasia and assisted suicide:

download
An In-depth Biblical Discussion for End of Life Issues

An In-depth Bib­lic­al Dis­cus­sion for End of Life Issues

by Chris Buttenshaw

This booklet is written by Chris Buttenshaw, a member of CARE's Public Affairs team. It gives an in-depth Biblical discussion of suffering, life and death in the context of faith in a sovereign God who is supremely in control, whose love and attention does not waiver according to circumstances (Psalm 136) and whose ways are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9; Job 36:26).

download
Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy

Euthanas­ia, Eth­ics and Pub­lic Policy

by John Keown

This book argues against the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide on the ground that, even if they were ethically defensible in certain 'hard cases', neither could be effectively controlled by law. It maintains that the experience of legalisation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon lends support to the two 'slippery slope' arguments against legalisation, the 'empirical' and the 'logical'.

buy the book
Finishing Line

Fin­ish­ing Line

by John Wyatt

A brand new study resource addressing the issue of assisted suicide, which we hope will be useful for church leaders and groups, Bible colleges and individuals in opening up conversation on this matter and exploring the key issues of assisted suicide, human dignity, medical and legal concerns, palliative care and others in a Biblical context.

Find out more
Watch: Per­spect­ives on Assisted Suicide

Watch: Per­spect­ives on Assisted Suicide

This series of videos and interviews explores the issue of assisted suicide, with personal stories and expert opinion.

Watch

Cause history

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Hippocratic Oath written

The Greek doctor Hippocrates writes the Hippocratic Oath, used by doctors all over the world as an ethical pledge. The oath states, "I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked."

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1961 Suicide Act

Under section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act, encouraging or assisting another person’s suicide is illegal.

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The Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics

A Select Committee of the House of Lords was established to consider the ethical, legal and clinical implications of life-shortening actions. The report in 1994 rejected any proposal to: “cross the line which prohibits any intentional killing, a line which we think it essential to preserve.” The Report also rejected any change in the law on assisted suicide.

2010 A better way forward 0 67h

Crown Prosecution Service publishes advice on assisted suicide

Following a consultation, the CPS publishes a policy for prosecutors which states that prosecution for assisting or encouraging a suicide will only be taken if it is deemed to be 'in the public interest.'

2010 Scottish Parl front 0 9

Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill defeated

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald tabled Bills in 2010 and 2011 that would have legalised assisted suicide. Under the second Bill people born with disabilities who “lose the will to live” would have been eligible to end their lives. The first Bill was defeated by the Scottish Parliament and the second Bill was rejected at public consultation phase.

2014 Ho P Istock 1i

Lord Falconer Bill

Lord Falconer introduced a Bill in the House of Lords seeking to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales. Following the dissolution of Parliament, the Bill fell.

2015 Westminster m

Rob Marris Assisted Dying Bill

The MP Rob Marris based this Bill on the Falconer Bill. It was defeated in its Second Reading in 2015 following a lengthy debate. The Bill was defeated by 330 to 118.

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Supreme Court allows doctors to withdraw food and fluids from patients

UK Supreme Court ruled that doctors would be able to withdraw food and fluids from brain-damaged patients with persistent vegetative state (PVS) and minimally conscious state (MCS) without needing to apply to the Court of Protection.

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Assisted Suicide: What is the Christian perspective?

Explore biblical views on end of life issues.

Find out more

News and updates

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UN Report on Persons with Disabilities Highlights Concerns Over Assisted Suicide

A new reportpublished ahead of the Human Rights Council meeting has drawn attention to the fears of disabled persons if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of persons with disabilities also mentions the need for serious consideration to be given to the issue of late-term abortions for babies with a disability.

Keep reading
Assisted suicide photo 5

Why the BMA should remain opposed to assisted suicide

The British Medical Association (BMA) is currently consulting its members on the issue of assisted suicide and what the position of the BMA on the issue should be. The poll will close on 27 February. Depending on the outcome, it could mean that the BMA, which is the UK’s official trade union for doctors, would drop its opposition to all forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide which it has held since 2006. In this piece, we set out some of the key arguments why the BMA should remain opposed to all forms of assisted suicide.

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Palliative care doctors call for doctors to remain opposed to assisted suicide

A large group of prominent palliative care doctors have called on the British Medical Association (BMA) to remain opposed to assisted suicide. The BMA is the doctors' trade union body.

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Dame Cicely Saunders
You mat­ter because you are you, and you mat­ter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peace­fully, but also to live until you die.
Dame Cicely Saunders Founder of the UK hospice movement

Culture
& society reflecting a better story for everyone.

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