The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away

This week there will be a debate in the House of Lords on a Bill to legalise “assisted dying” which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients. If passed, the law would apply only to those who it is judged have less than 6 months to live and would have to be signed off by two doctors. The patient would administer the substance themselves, although they would be able to receive help if they could not lift or swallow it. So the Bill would legalise assisted suicide.

Compassion is at the centre of the debate. What is the compassionate thing to do for someone who is terminally ill and, possibly, in great pain? Over my years in the ministry I have pastorally cared for many people in such situations and their families. I have witnessed the amazing courage of terminally-ill people and seen the loving care of their families which has surrounded them. The skill and commitment of the medical team and the palliative carers has been wonderful to see. Even though everyone involved knows that death is drawing near, they have committed themselves to showing compassion and love to the dying person.

The proposed Bill presents a very different picture of compassion. When a terminally ill person feels they cannot go on those who are with them, both family and medical team, will agree that the compassionate thing to do is to allow them to end their life, even though they may have as much as six months to live. Lethal drugs will be prescribed and, then, the person, either on their own, or with assistance from those nearest to them will take the drugs and, within a short time, die. A husband or wife or son or daughter will have to live with the realisation that they played an active role in the death of someone they loved very deeply.

As I have visited terminally ill people it has been amazing to see how God has wonderfully sustained them. He has given them grace to face each day as they have experienced the deep love of their family and friends. When, finally, they have died the family had no sense of guilt but have been able to trust God to comfort them in their deep sense of loss. They could say with Job, when he suffered great personal loss in the death of all his children, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”


Dying with Dignity

An unofficial Commission has recently reported on the subject of assisted dying/suicide. The Commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a former Justice Secretary, and was funded by Sir Terry Pratchett, the well known author, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The Commission was set up because those involved felt the present law, which makes assisted dying illegal, is “inadequate.” Most of the members of the Commission were known to be in favour of legalising assisted dying/suicide.

The recommendations of the Commission were that, in certain circumstances, assisted dying should be legalised. If a person is over 18, has a terminal illness, and is not expected to live more than 12 months, they should be permitted to kill themselves, provided they are not mentally impaired and are able to make a voluntary decision. The person would also need to be independently assessed by two doctors before being given the medicine to end their lives. The Commission believed there was a “strong case” for this procedure to be legalised. Many people refused to give evidence to the Commission, including the BMA, who said the majority of doctors do not want to legalise assisted dying.

This is a very important subject for any civilised society. Since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed there have been 7 million abortions in the UK. Mothers expecting babies whom tests reveal have a disability are routinely encouraged to abort them so that the child will not become a drain on resources. Now it is being proposed, in the guise of being caring and allowing freedom of choice, that the terminally ill be helped to “die with dignity.” This is a serious issue for us all.

It is very important that we affirm the sanctity of every human life. We all bear the image of God and have an eternal soul. The way we care for the terminally ill and elderly affirms the value we set on every individual person. I have often witnessed the loving care of families and medical staff for those who are dying. When life is drawing to an end it means so much to be surrounded by our loved ones. The excellent care now available in hospitals and hospices eases the final days for many. Long may this loving care continue. How tragic it would be if the law allowed people to ask their doctors to give them a fatal dose of drugs so that they can commit suicide.