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Do we have a right to die?

On 11th September the House of Commons will debate Rob Marris’ Assisted Dying Bill. Marris came first in the Private Members’ Ballot and his Bill is the fifth attempt to establish in law a right to die, given various safeguards.

If passed the Bill would allow “competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life”. They must have a clear and settled intention to do this, have made a declaration to that effect on a prescribed form, in the presence of an independent witness, be over 18 and resident in England or Wales for not less than one year.

A registered medical professional must certify that the individual is terminally ill and expected to die within six months. Two doctors must counter-sign the form, the one who will assist the dying and another independent doctor. The doctor who will assist the act must ensure that the individual is aware of palliative medicine, hospices and other care available. They will prescribe the medicine to be used but it must be self-administered by the person choosing to die. The attending doctor must remain with the person until death has occurred. The Bill includes provisions for conscientious objection by medical personnel. Any act contrary to these provisions could lead to five years in prison on conviction.

The BMA and many doctors oppose the Bill but the campaigning organisation Dignity in Dying claim that 82% of the general public support the idea, as do some Christians including George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Supporters argue that it would spare terminally ill people the pain and distress they are experiencing. They say that people should have this right to die because we are autonomous beings. Their choice would also spare their loved ones from witnessing their suffering and save them the costs of caring for someone who is expecting to die within six months anyway.

Many Christians see life as a gift of God and suicide as rebellion against Him

Opponents contend that palliative care reduces the likelihood of unbearable pain and dispute the assumptions of autonomy. Many Christians see life as a gift of God and suicide as rebellion against Him. They also question how certain a doctor can be that a patient is likely to die within six months and have doubts about the safeguards for medics who conscientiously object to assisting someone to take their life. They are aware of the pressures on doctors who refuse to do abortions.

Public attitudes on prematurely ending life are muddled. Capital punishment was abolished and the decision to invade Iraq strongly opposed but there are 200,000 abortions a year in the UK. They may claim that assisting someone to take their own life is compassionate but do very little to care for the victims of violence in Syria and Iraq today. If this Bill is passed it will be further evidence of this country’s flight from faith in and relationship with our Creator. If you want the Bill to fail you can ask your MP to be in the House of Commons on 11th September and to vote against it.

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