Spot a man about to drown in his car and many of us would instinctively want to try and help him. Just recently, ITV's renowned political editor Tom Bradby was left shaking with rage after he attempted to save a drowning man while officials and police officers stood by doing nothing. Many people having read that story would understandably take Bradby's side and share his frustration. When faced with a potential suicide attempt by a desperate man, we rightly feel we should do all we can to save him. Yet at the same time a bill is about to be debated in Parliament to enable doctors, whose job is to save lives and help deal with patients' problems, to prescribe medication to enable a patient to take their own life.
Now, supporters of this bill would have us believe that this is in tune with public opinion. They will glibly talk about how many people are being 'forced' to travel to Dignitas to end their own lives because the current law in the UK on assisted suicide is 'broken'. As the media will happily give profile to highly emotive cases such as Mr Bob Cole, it is easy to swallow the idea that changing the law will bring relief to many people who simply want the right to end their own life, peacefully, in their own homes.
Yet the figures reveal a tiny number of people, fewer than 20 each year, travel abroad to end their own life. Between 1998 and 2014, 273 people have gone to Dignitas to end their own life. Compare that to the 500,000 who die due to various other causes here in the UK each year. The point is there is no great tidal wave of people queuing up to end their own lives. We should also remember that hard cases make bad laws. Each example of someone going abroad to end their own life is tragic, but suicide should not become normalised. Liberalising the law to make it more accessible for certain people will send a devastating message to the elderly and the vulnerable.
I can't help but feel there is something completely shameless about some of the claims Dignity in Dying (DiD) are making. This has been especially clear to me ever since DiD started courting the Christian vote. First, there was the exclusive video of Lord Carey – the human face of assisted suicide – explaining why he thinks it is the Christian response. This video, run by Premier Christian Radio, was a tragic reversal of true biblical principals. Then DiD gleefully jumped on a letter to the Telegraph signed by a tiny minority of Anglican Bishops, Lord Carey and some Jewish Rabbis who argued assisted suicide was compassionate. Their main line was that while life is a gift from God, sometimes we might want to give that gift back.
Excuse me? We rarely tolerate such blatant arrogance in society in general, where social norms dictate you don't ever give a gift back. But we're not talking here about a gift from our in-laws (which we didn't ask for, let alone want), we are talking about human life: the most amazing and precious gift in the world. God does not give us life so we can simply throw it away when we want to. It is not up to us to decide when we die and the Bible makes it abundantly clear: we are immortal until our work is done.
It is clear to me that Dignity in Dying are attempting to persuade Christians who might be wavering on this issue that it is possible to think assisted suicide is a good idea because the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey says so. When my colleague went on the BBC to debate assisted suicide, the CEO of DiD casually dismissed one of his arguments as "right for him" because of his "Christian beliefs". My colleague had articulated a very simple yet potent argument that we should be seeking to help people at the end of their life by improving access to palliative care. So on the one hand, sound arguments against assisted suicide are dismissed as the consequence of Christian faith but when an opportunity arises to target the Christian vote, DiD shamelessly give a platform to Lord Carey and tweet that he is presenting the Christian arguments.
Perhaps I sound angry, but I do not think the Christian vote should be used and abused in this manner. DiD are not a religious organisation and are therefore simply unqualified to make any claims to present the 'Christian' argument. They've deliberately set themselves up to promote a law that is contrary to true Christian teaching.
Of course as Christians we should be doing all we can to relieve suffering, but we should be seeking to kill the pain not the patient. To go down the route of what is in effect state-sanctioned suicide is wrong and wholly unnecessary. In three weeks time, MPs will vote on the most significant human dignity issue for generations. I am praying fervently a vast majority will vote No, and this dangerous legislation will be firmly kicked into the long grass where it belongs.
Nola Leach is the CEO of CARE.