THE leaders of Britain’s faith communities have united to warn Parliament against the “grave error” of legalising assisted suicide.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury joined 21 other of the most senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain faith leaders to protest the Assisted Dying Bill.
The legislation scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords on July 18 was designed to abolish the crime of assisting a suicide by allowing doctors to supply lethal drugs to people expected to die within six months and who are mentally competent.
But in a July 16 open letter, the faith leaders said the bill would allow doctors to decide if some people are “of no further value” and that it would place vulnerable and terminally ill people at “increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support”.
“This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society,” said the letter, signed also by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain Dr Shuja Shafi.
“While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all,” the letter said.
Archbishop Welby called the Assisted Dying Bill “dangerous”. He argued that an assisted-suicide law would exert pressure on the sick, disabled and elderly 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 and terminally ill person in the country?” he asked in a July 12 article for The Times newspaper.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have encouraged the laity to write to politicians to ask them to oppose the bill.
Catholic Bishops Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Mark O’Toole of Plymouth have issued pastoral letters condemning the bill, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has announced that he would open the churches of his diocese for a “holy hour” of prayer and adoration on July 17, the eve of the debate, in the hope that the legislation will fail.
If the bill progresses successfully through the House of Lords, later this year it will go to the House of Commons, where lawmakers will be allowed to vote according to their consciences.
Under the 1961 Suicide Act, the offence of assisting a suicide is punishable in Britain by up to 14 years in prison.