Monday, 13 July 2015

Christians must speak out about the Marris Bill on assisted suicide

Labour MP Rob Marris wants to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales. His Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill would allow mentally competent adults (>18) judged to have less than six months to live to receive help to kill themselves once given approval by two doctors and a High Court judge.

Marris’s Bill is essentially the same as Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which ran out of parliamentary time in the House of Lords just prior to the general election (see full critique of Falconer here and recent CMF File on assisted suicide here).

A second reading debate on the general principle of the bill will be held in the House of Commons on Friday 11 September. If MPs vote it through then it may be very hard to stop it becoming law in some shape or form. So it is essential that MPs turn up en masse and vote it out.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. It would also encourage those with an emotional or financial interest in another person’s death to apply subtle means of coercion. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.

Experience in other jurisdictions, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and the American states of Oregon and Washington, shows clearly that any change in the law to allow assisted suicide, or any other form of euthanasia, leads to ‘incremental extension’ and ‘mission creep’ - a steady annual increase in numbers and a broadening of categories of those to be included (from mentally competent to incompetent, from terminal to chronic illness, from adults to children, from assisted suicide to euthanasia). This process will be almost impossible to police.

This bill also gives huge power to doctors without proper accountability and its so-called safeguards are paper thin. Furthermore, as we have seen already with the Abortion Act, a small number of doctors will push its boundaries and will be very difficult to regulate.

The Bible tells us that human beings are unique amongst God’s creatures in being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). It is on this basis, after the flood, that God introduces the prohibition against killing legally innocent people (Genesis 9:6,7) that is later formalised in the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).

Other passages in the Old Testament (eg. Exodus 21:12-14; Leviticus 24:17-21; Numbers 35:16-31; Deuteronomy 19:4-13) define ‘murder’ unambiguously as the ‘intentional killing of an innocent human being’ (Exodus 23:7; 2 Kings 21:16; Psalms 106:37,38; Jeremiah 19:4).

Euthanasia and assisted suicide clearly fall within this biblical definition. The Bible makes no provision for compassionate killing, even at the person’s request and there is no recognition of a ‘right to die’ as all human life belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Our lives are not actually our own. Suicide (and therefore assisted suicide) is therefore equally morally wrong.

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that that we should go beyond the mere letter of the sixth commandment to fulfil the very spirit of love on which it is based (Matthew 5:21,22). We are called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to be imitators of God, to love as he himself loved (1 John 2:6; Ephesians 5:1,2; John 13:34, 35), to walk in the way of the cross.

God calls us to give our whole selves to the love and service of others by expending our time, money and energy in finding compassionate solutions and offering hope to those who suffer  (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 8:34; Philippians 2:4-11; Galatians 6:2, 10). This has found practical shape historically in the hospice movement and in good palliative care - pioneered in large part by Christian doctors and nurses.

Persistent requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for so our priority must surely be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.

The present law in England and Wales which makes assisted suicide illegal is clear and right. The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in hard cases. It does not need changing.

This is why I am asking Christians to take up their pens and write to their MPs encouraging him/her to oppose the bill and vote against it.

Visit to access guidance on engaging with your MP (noting especially the three key ways of doing so) and do please share this initiative with others.

As a result of the voices of concerned citizens, including many Christians, we saw Patrick Harvie's assisted suicide bill defeated earlier this year in the Scottish Parliament by 82 votes to 36.

Let’s pray and work together to seeing off the Marris Bill. It will be an even tougher challenge but we need at such a time as this to speak out on behalf of vulnerable people who are being put at huge risk.

‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ (Proverbs 31:8)

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