“Every human life is of intrinsic value and ought to be affirmed and cherished. This is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error,” said a July 16 joint statement signed by the leaders.
The proposed bill would change the laws in England and Wales, which presently punish assisted suicide by up to 14 years in prison. Introduced by Lord Falconer, a peer with the Labour Party, the legislation would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to seriously ill patients who request them and who are believed to have less than six months to live.
Having its first reading in the House of Lords June 5, the bill’s principles will be debated, and perhaps voted on, for the first time when it receives its second reading on July 18.
In a joint statement, a variety of religious figures expressed their fear that the bill “would have a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.”
The statement was signed by 24 leaders of different faith traditions, including Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols, a Jewish Rabbi, an official of Britain’s Hindu Forum and a Muslim.
Actively assisting in ending the life of another does not lead to “a compassionate and caring society,” they observed, stating that those who are vulnerable “must be cared for and protected,” even if others must make sacrifices.
“Each year many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers,” and are “perceived as a burden or as a financial drain,” they noted, stating that this “terrible affliction” often leads many “to passivity, depression and self-loathing.”
“The desire to end one’s life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is ‘rational’ does not do justice to the facts.”
Going on, the faith leaders voiced concern that the bill would increase pressure to the vulnerable and terminally ill, which would then enhance the risk “of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.”
Citing “serious lapses of trust” that have happened within the country’s National Health Service regarding caregivers, the faith leaders argued that legalizing the bill would only increase the chances of abuse.
“It is naïve to believe that, if assisted suicide were to be legalized, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.”
Questioning what sort of society they would like to become, the signatories encouraged individuals to foster a society “in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves.”
The faith leaders then called for increased access to better quality palliative care, as well as greater support for those who assist the terminally ill.
These things, they explained, “will be among the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies ought to be harnessed.”