Byline: DR ROWAN WILLIAMS
The Archbishop of Canterbury warns of the perils of sleepwalking into a law that he fears will be the first step towards euthanasia THE House of Lords will this week discuss the possibility of an Assisted Dying Bill, allowing doctors to agree to the requests of sick people who want to be helped to die at a point of their choosing.
It is not a proposal for euthanasia against the will of a patient. But it is clear that the current proposals would be a significant first step in this direction.
It is crucial to realise that if any such Bill is accepted by Parliament, it will signal a fundamental change in the relationship of the law of this country to the people of this country.
The law has always been what guarantees the security and the lives of citizens, irrespective of quality of life or life expectancy. If it becomes lawful for a private citizen to bring about the death of another private citizen, we are in uncharted waters.
I make no secret of the fact that I believe that I must oppose this Bill, chiefly on the grounds of my religious commitments - the conviction that life is a gift from God that we cannot treat as a possession of our own to keep or throw away as we choose, the conviction that no situation is completely beyond the grace of God.
Now it would be wrong to make particular laws - or to resist the making of laws - as if everyone in this country shared these beliefs, and I don't assume that everyone does.
However, if this proposed law is as misguided as most religious people think, we should not be surprised to find other factors that reinforce this sense of disquiet, factors not directly related to religion.
SUCH factors include the realities of a poorly funded health service, the threat to the historic relations of trust between patient and doctor, and the way decisions are made about the funding of research - especially the unfashionable, unsexy and often unprofitable research into care for the elderly.
This is the real world of modern medicine. The question facing us is not one we can think about in a vacuum. If assisted dying becomes legal, it is our own beleaguered NHS that will have to put it into practice.
So I hope and pray that before anyone votes for this Bill, they will have considered at least these questions: If we say that people have a right to die in some circumstances, does this create a duty on the part of doctors and nurses to bring about death?
If it does, what are the safeguards for the right of medical professionals to refuse on conscientious grounds?
What will the effect of legislation be on trust in the medical profession?
Will there be a suspicion or fear that pressure will be brought to bear on those in terminal or extreme conditions to ask for 'assisted dying'? We already hear about elderly people moving away from the Netherlands and Switzerland because of fears about what might happen to them if they need medical care.
Will individuals or their families - not to mention doctors and nurses - be able to cope with the feeling of unspoken pressure to save scarce resources? …