Assisted dying - time for change?
There is a Christian case to be made for supporting a change in the law, writes Simon Woodman
It is often assumed that to be a Christian is to oppose any change in the law on Assisted Dying, and yet a 2019 survey (the largest ever UK poll on assisted dying*) found that 80 per cent of people with faith supported the legalisation of assisted dying for terminally ill adults with mental capacity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that, ‘Dying people should have the right to choose how and when they leave Mother Earth. I believe that, alongside the wonderful palliative care that exists, their choices should include a dignified assisted death.’
So, despite the vocal opposition of pressure groups, it seems that there is a Christian case to be made for supporting a change in the law.
As with many people, my own convictions regarding assisted dying are rooted in personal experience, and over the years I have sought to reflect before God on how modern medical science might speak well to the human experience of dying, just as it so helpfully does to the task of keeping us alive and healthy into our old age. A good death should be the fitting conclusion to a good life, and both can be regarded as gifts from God given via the medium of medicine.
Sometimes death might not be the worst thing that can happen to a person. Actually, I’ll put it a bit more positively than that: sometimes death is the best thing that can happen to a person. I say this born out of a deep theological conviction that, from the perspective of eternity, death is not the enemy; because ultimately, as a Christian, I do not believe that death gets the final word on life. All the good and godly moments of our lives are held safe with Christ in God and pass into God’s eternal embrace, and nothing true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, or commendable is ever lost to the love of God. So at the moment of our death we need neither be constrained nor judged in the manner of our passing. We are rather freed to embrace death, knowing that in death we are held eternally in God’s love.
So does modern medicine here have a great gift to offer those who are nearing the end of life through terminal illness, to be received with the same gratitude that we receive the other medical miracles that make our lives so much more bearable than those of any generation of humanity before us?
I hear and echo all the arguments around safeguards and ethical constraints, but these should no more prevent us using assisted dying appropriately than the safeguards and constraints that govern surgical or pharmaceutical medicine prevent us using those services. I firmly believe, on the basis of my pastoral experience and theological reflection, that there is a Christian perspective on assisted dying which sees it as a gift and not a curse; and which states very firmly that, in the light of the resurrection of Christ, a good death need neither be feared nor fought.
A new Bill was recently introduced to the House of Lords to legalise assisted dying in England, which is sure to reignite the debate in our churches and pressurise leaders to speak out, yet a recent YouGov survey found that more than half of people with faith believed that religious leaders were wrong to lobby MPs against a change in the law in 2015. Interestingly, it’s not just among churches that opinions are shifting, with the British Medical Association expected to drop its opposition as a result of surveying its members.
A Religious Alliance for Dignity in Dying has recently launched, consisting of people of all faiths, to show that there is no contradiction between having a faith and being in favour of voluntary assisted dying. This is not to in any way suggest that all people of faith should support changing the law, certainly not, but it is to say that neither should they be expected to automatically oppose it. There is scope here for good and mature debate, as we share our experiences, listen deeply to one another, and respect the freedom to hold different views as we seek to discern God’s gracious love at work in our deaths, as well as in our lives.
Image | Jacinta Christos | Unsplash
Simon Woodman, minister, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
* For the 2019 survey, Populus interviewed a random sample of 5,695 adults online between 11th March and 24th March 2019. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain, with an increased sample level in Scotland, and the results were weighted to be representative of all British adults.
Assisted dying - three questions for Christians Anyone wishing to seriously engage with the subject must first wrestle with, and come to a view on, three fundamental questions, writes John Elliston
From The Baptist Times archive:
Euthanasia - can we live without it? A look at Assisted Dying ahead of a Parliamentary debate in 2015, by Chris Goswami
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