The Archbishop of York has condemned a campaign to legalise mercy killings that he feels is being driven by celebrities without any regard for Parliament and the will of the “silent majority”.
Dr John Sentamu’s comments came just days after a YouGov poll for The Telegraph found that more than four out of five people believed the law should be amended so that relatives would be allowed to help terminally ill relatives die without facing prosecution. Another poll carried out by ComRes for BBC1’s Panorama programme, found 73 per cent thought family or friends should not face prosecution for helping a loved one to die.
The Archbishop was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: “The silent majority never get asked. One thousand people out of about 61 million really is not very much guidance.
“Once you begin to open this particular door, it won’t be long before you start having mercy killings. I would rather listen to the voices of disabled people than to the voices of celebrities or the voices of 1,000 people in an opinion poll.”
Final guidelines on assisted suicide are expected to rule out prosecution for those who help loved ones to die when they are published by the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, QC, in the next five weeks.
Sir Terry Pratchett is the latest high profile personality to come out in support of assisted suicide. The author, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, said in a lecture on Monday night that there should be assisted suicide "tribunals" that would grant permission to the terminally ill to end their lives.
Christians have maintained strong opposition to current laws, which make helping someone to kill themselves a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
The director of the Christian Medical Fellowship and Care Not Killing alliance, Dr Peter Saunders, said the results of opinion polling tended to be “coloured” by media reporting.
He said the law was there to protect vulnerable people from abuse.
“To argue that if you are terminally ill you deserve less protection from the law than do the rest of us is highly discriminatory as well as dangerous,” he said.
“Many cases of abuse involving elderly, sick and disabled people occur in the context of so-called 'loving families' and the blanket prohibition of intentional killing or assisting suicide is there to ensure that vulnerable people are not put at risk.
“The best safeguard against abuse is the knowledge that all cases of intentional killing, or helping people to kill themselves, will be carefully investigated and that charges will be brought unless there are strong mitigating circumstances.
“This is the considered view of Parliament which has twice voted on the matter in the last four years. We would not contemplate making exceptions ahead of time for other statutory crimes like assault, rape or theft and we should not do so for intentional killing or assisted suicide.”
Archbishop hits out at campaign for mercy killings
Published 02 February 2010 | Jenna Lyle