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11:16am on Sunday, 6th September, 2015:

Star Names


There's a private-members bill going through parliament to legalise assisted dying under certain circumstance: the patient must have no more than 6 months left to live, must have a "clear and settled intention" to end their life, and must be assessed by two doctors and a family court judge to make sure they really do only have 6 months to live and that they're mentally competent and not being coerced. The patient would then have to self-administer the drugs that will kill them.

This seems reasonable to me. It's not something I'd ever want to do myself, but I realise that plenty of people do take that decision. The majority the adult population seems to be of the same opinion.

However, faith communities are not of the same opinion. Well, they are of the same opinion as each other, but not with people in general. They've written a letter and sent it to all MPs to complain. "They" here are the leaders of quite a wide range of faiths and denominations in England and Wales: Church of England, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Pentecostal, Baptists, Zoroastran, Judaism, Church of Wales, Methodist, Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim and Sikh. There are some leaders of other religious-oriented organisations involved, too (eg. the Salvation Army). It looks as if the Quaker, Hindu and Buddhist leaders didn't want to sign up, but it's still an impressive array.

The stated reasons for being against the bill are that the leaders have concerns about the impact on family and friends and that they're worried people will do it because they feel pressurised to "do the decent thing". Both these arguments are basically the same one about pressurisation: the former says that family and friends might want to discourage a patient from taking this option because they don't want them to die; the latter says that family and friends might want to encourage a patient from taking this option because they do want them to die. In either case, it seems to me that the provisions of the bill amply cover the situation.

I don't see the stated reason as being the underlying reason anyway. If it were, then the leaders of these faiths would have come up with a list of changes they'd like to see to assuage their concerns. The thing is, death has been the domain of religions since time immemorial, and allowing people (even those with a 6-month prognosis at best) to die before their time undermines that. The concerns about pressurisation are most probably genuine, but they're not enough to organise a group of leaders of people who all believe the others are wrong about so much else to agree to write a letter about it.

If they want to tell their own followers not to take advantage of the new law, that's their prerogative. If they want the rest of us not to have such a law in the first place, well they're not the bosses of us any more and we don't have to listen to them.

If the leaders of all the medical and healthcare groups were to write a similar letter, then it would be worth heeding.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).