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Archbishop Justin Welby Speaks Out In Opposition Of Assisted Dying

July 12, 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out in opposition of assisted suicide, claiming that legalising it would leave a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the heads of “every vulnerable, terminally-ill person in the country.”

The Archbishop’s first intervention in the debate comes as his predecessor, Lord Carey, dramatically came out in favour of the right to die.

While the former Archbishop says that by opposing the reform the Church risks “promoting anguish and pain”, the Most Rev Justin Welby said that the opinions of the bill’s supporters were “mistaken and dangerous”.

The clash came as both men wrote opinion pieces in National newspapers days before the House of Lords considers a Bill tabled by Lord Falconer allowing doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients a lethal dose of drugs.

Writing in the Times, Archbishop Welby said he understood how seeing a loved one suffer prompted the desire to “do almost anything” to alleviate their suffering.

He cited the agony he suffered seeing his own seven-month-old daughter Johanna, who was fatally injured in a car crash in France, die in 1983.

But he warned that “even in the face of such agony” the “deep personal demands” of one situation should not blind people to the needs of others including more than a half a million elderly people who are estimated to be abused every year in the UK.

He accused the Assisted Dying Bill of being “naive” in the suggestion that doctors could recognise every time a person was put under pressure to end their life.

He wrote: “Abuse, coercion and intimidation can be slow instruments in the hands of the unscrupulous, creating pressure on vulnerable people who are encouraged to “do the decent thing”.

“Even where such pressure is not overt, the very presence of a law that permits assisted suicide on the terms proposed by Lord Falconer of Thoroton is bound to lead to sensitive individuals feeling that they ought to stop “being a burden to others”.

“What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally ill person in the country?”

He summarised the argument in favour of the right to die as a belief in compassion – that some dying people face unbearable suffering and therefore it is compassionate to provide help and therefore the law should be changed.

However, the Archbishop wrote: “

Archbishop Welby added: “Even if we leave to one side major difficulties in determining what legally constitutes “unbearable suffering” and “terminal illness”, the above argument is deeply flawed.

“Were it to be presented by a candidate in a GSCE religious education exam, I should expect an examiner to take a dim view of it.”

Under Lord Falconer’s plan doctors would be able to provide a fatal dose of drugs to patients judged to have less than six months to live. Patients would administer the substance themselves but could receive help if unable to do so. The process would require two doctors’ signatures.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jeffrey davies permalink
    July 12, 2014 7:12 pm

    horay the oilman has spoken at last well done j

  2. July 14, 2014 10:30 am

    During my 16 years living in England, I spent three years (1995-98) working as a caregiver – living with and caring for several elderly people suffering from advanced dementia.

    This year, I self-published The Carer, a short e-novel based on my experiences in this role:

    Beside providing me with an up-close view of my patients’ respective slow but steady slides into the final stages of dementia, this job encouraged me to consider just how far down that road I myself would be prepared to go if I am ever diagnosed with dementia …

    In addition, my time as a careworker taught me to question the way in which western society currently appears to value quantity and longevity of life over quality. I learned fast that just because a person continues to draw breath, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually alive in the way most of us tend to define it. Most people don’t experience dementia up close. If they did, they would realize many people with advanced forms of the illness are trapped in a truly terrifying, living hell with no way out except fading slowly and somewhat agonizingly into a merciful death. I often felt my charges were closer to anxious zombies than human beings – and did often wonder about the ethics of prolonging life as long as possible under those circumstances.

    I personally would never want to experience that kind of ‘life’. Nor would I want to watch a parent or anyone else go through it. When it comes this kind of illness, I like to think I’ll quit while I’m ahead. In terms of the current debate over both the right-to-die and assisted dying. It’s fair to say I’m now much less in favour of prolonging life at all costs than I was before I went into geriatric care work.

    Perhaps we should be a little more like Latin American – where people appear to embrace and celebrate death, rather than attempt to ignore it and lock it away behind closed doors.

    About The Carer
    A “gritty urban thriller with a social conscience”, The Carer offers a tale of elder abuse, “patricide by proxy and the corrosive effects of power.” Primarily, The Carer is a Faustian tale that takes a look at what can happen when you outsource responsibility for your loved ones to people who don’t love them.

    Buy The Carer for US$0.99:

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