In September the Government allowed a free vote on the subject of assisted suicide. Once again it was roundly defeated. I wrote about this last year and concluded, from 32 years experience in ordained ministry, that all those I’d come into contact with talked about “assisted living” not “ assisted dying”.
The Church of England’s official view on this is that we must value individual lives, protect the vulnerable and respect the integrity of the doctor patient relationship. Bishop James Newcome; Bishop of Carlisle and a spokesperson for the Church of England, wrote “Foremost is the view, shared by many people of other faiths and none, that every person’s life has an intrinsic value regardless of circumstance. Whatever they themselves or other people may think of their ‘value’ to society, and despite any apparent lack of productivity or usefulness, nothing can alter their essential significance as human beings. To agree that some of us are more valuable than others when it comes to being alive would be to cross an ethical Rubicon. Until now, our society has regarded this as self-evident. That is why we have ‘suicide watch’ in prisons; and why we try to stop people killing themselves by jumping off bridges or cliffs or high buildings. It is why doctors undertake to give only ’beneficial’ treatment to their patients and why we attach so much importance to human rights.”
The church recognises that this is a complex issue and one that provokes strong feelings from those who argue from opposing positions. The law as it stands provides a good balance between compassion and protection of the vulnerable.
The view one takes on this will undoubtedly be coloured by the quality of care received at the end of life. Recently the UK was ranked as the best in the world for providing the end of life care. The quality of end of life care is, and will become, increasingly important with an aging population and better medical care means that people are likely to face ”drawn out” deaths. It is also important that we enable people to have a good death in the home environment, if they so choose. To do this there will naturally need to be increased resources and funding. There can, in my view, be no fixed sum of money put on the value and uniqueness of every person.
Good quality end of life cares offers the hope of a less fearful end and reduces the pressures that encourage some to take other forms of action. At its best palliative care demonstrates that life is valuable and important.