By Lisa Zengarini
Despite strong opposition from British religious leaders and over 1,600 medical professionals, a new bill to allow assisted dying in England and Wales passed its Second Reading at the House of Lords on Friday.
The “Assisted Dying Bill”, tabled by Baroness Molly Christine Meacher, follows two previous proposals which failed to become law before the 2015 UK General Election.
Arguments for and against the Bill
If passed, it would legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final six months of life. Two independent doctors and a High Court judge would have to assess each request which, if granted, would enable a patient to die in a manner and at a time and place of their choosing. Currently assisted suicide is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment in the United Kingdom.
Campaigners in favour of the new legislation argue that would give them greater control over how and when they die. However, during the Second Reading debate 60 speakers expressed their strong opposition on the grounds of safety, protecting the vulnerable and those with disabilities, as well as highlighting the misuses of the language of “compassion” when talking about assisted suicide.
These arguments have also been put forward by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales who over the past months have invited Catholics to petition against the Bill and to pray for its rejection.
Faith leaders against the Bill
They were joined this week by other faith leaders. On October 19, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis sent a joint letter to peers warning of the risk to vulnerable people. In contrast to the proposed law, the three religious leaders called for measures to make high-quality palliative care available to all at the end of their lives. The aim of a compassionate society should be ‘assisted living’ rather than an acceptance of assisted suicide, they noted.
The Bill now passed to Committee Stage
Commenting Friday’s debate, Bishop John Sherrington, head of the CBCEW Department for Life Issues, thanked Catholics for writing to peers and praying for the Bill to be defeated. He said bishops will continue to “scrutinise and challenge the legislation” which is now set to be examined by a Committee. “The Catholic Church is clear that we can never assist in taking the life of another, even if they request it,” the prelate reiterated. “All life is sacred from conception until natural death, and we reiterate our call for investment in high quality palliative care. Our call is one for assistance in living and not assistance in committing suicide.”