Back in 2012-13 when the Equal Marriage Bill was taking its long course through parliament, it was impossible to go from one week to the next without another blog post or article written by a Christian passionately setting out their views on the matter. We heard stories of MPs' offices overflowing with mail from Christians telling them which way they ought to vote.
Now that we are days away from Labour MP, Rob Marris' Assisted Dying (suicide is more honest) Bill being debated in the House of Commons, I wish the same level of engagement was the case for this too. Hundreds of thousands opposed a redefinition of marriage and yet on a practical level it will only ever affect a small proportion of our society. In contrast, if assisted dying/suicide does become law, it will present ethical and moral issues that each one of us will potentially have to deal with.
Preparing for death and the prior pain that some endure as their bodies deteriorate is an emotive subject. We hate to see those we love suffer and many of us fear what might lie ahead in our own lives. It is under this banner of compassion that Dignity in Dying are attempting to cajole our parliamentarians into siding with their single-minded objective to allow us to control the time and place of our deaths. Lord Falconer's previous attempts in the House of Lords over the last few years have come to nothing and so now it is Marris' turn to champion the cause.
It is clear that their approach is to relentlessly bang the drum and push hard to stir up enough support that eventually their opponents will be overwhelmed and capitulate. The fact that there is considerable concern across the board about the weakness of the proposed legislation is simply dismissed. Only allowing adults of sound mind with less than six months to live to be given the right to end their lives prematurely is supposedly a safe enough arrangement to avoid abuse of the system. However no disability organisation agrees with them. Neither does the British Medical Association which represents doctors in the UK. You only have to look to Holland and Belgium where the boundaries continue to be relaxed to see that the slippery slope argument is anything but hypothetical. This too though is rejected as scaremongering.
And please whatever you do, don't try to argue against assisted dying on religious grounds either. Dignity in Dying have been scathing of religious opposition, treating it as irrational and irrelevant in a predominantly secular society. Despite this, they surely will have been delighted when Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, recently decided to change his mind and start campaigning on their behalf. He has described the proposed law as "a profoundly Christian and moral thing". In a piece for the Mail on Sunday last month he wrote: 'I often find myself asking: 'What would Jesus do?' I think I know what he wouldn't do. He wouldn't say: 'There, there. Pain is good for you. Take it like a man or a woman.'''
Now, if assisted dying is Christian and moral then that leads to the belief that Jesus would encourage it. Can you imagine a woman coming to him with a cancerous growth, and Jesus looking at her with compassion but offering some poisonous berries, telling her that there is nothing left in her life worth living for?
Even thinking about this goes against everything I believe about Jesus. He came to restore and to heal, not to destroy. He expects us to do the same. It is ironic that at this time when the idea of assisted suicide is becoming increasingly acceptable, palliative care and medical treatment of pain are more advanced than they have ever been. But despite this we are proposing that doctors, rather than seeking the best quality of life at all times, instead load a gun, hand it to the patient and let them pull the trigger.
The gun in this case contains a lethal chemical cocktail. It may be more clinical, but the effect is the same. I might think that it is my choice as to when I decide to end it all, but in order to do so we are not only forcing the medical profession to make that decision on our behalf, but also to become agents of death in the process. How exactly is this Christian?
Jesus too had plenty to say about defending the weak and vulnerable. Legislation that requires patients to be of sound mind assumes that as we consider death in our frail bodies we will make entirely rational decisions. This is a time when all are weak and vulnerable and our mental health is not at its strongest. Placing the pressure on anyone to make up their mind on whether others would be better off if they were gone is neither moral nor loving.
When we reject our spiritual nature and refuse to see ourselves as being made in the image of God, we lose sight of the purpose of life. Instead it becomes a commodity to be consumed and controlled. In such a worldview, turning the lights off when we've had enough is an acceptable option, but in doing so we only undermine the value of our lives further. True compassion, as Jesus so profoundly demonstrated, is not revealed when we obliterate suffering, but rather when we stand alongside and share with those experiencing it.
Assisted suicide is simply not the answer we need.
The Assisted Dying Bill will be debated on September 11th, but it's not too late to contact your MP. More information on how to do this and the details of the Bill can be found at No To Assisted Suicide.