Church leaders issue stark warnings against assisted suicide

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Church leaders and faith groups have spoken out against assisted suicide legislation due to be considered in the Scottish Parliament in the coming months.

A Bill submitted by Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur proposes legalising assisted suicide but is strongly opposed by Catholic and evangelical leaders, and a number of organisations including The Christian Institute, Evangelical Alliance and CARE for Scotland. 

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland said in a New Year's statement that legalising assisted suicide was "contrary to the dignity of the human person" and "would put immeasurable pressure on vulnerable people" to end their lives prematurely. 

The bishops voiced particular concern about people with disabilities and those concerned about being a financial or emotional burden on loved ones.

"Once passed, incremental extensions and the removal of protections and safeguards are inevitable and have happened everywhere legislation has been passed," they said. 

"Deliberately bringing about a patient's death would be akin to crossing the Rubicon for a profession entrusted to act in the best interests of the patient and to first do no harm.

"MSPs should be preventing suicide, not assisting it by introducing a dangerous law with deadly and irreparable consequences."

The Christian Institute echoed their concerns and warned that promised safeguards would quickly be eroded once assisted suicde was legalised. 

"The choice to die very quickly becomes a duty to die. So-called safeguards in other jurisdictions have evaporated, often staggeringly quickly," it said.

"And the drugs given to people to kill themselves can cause intense suffering. True compassion for those who are terminally ill means valuing their lives, giving them hope, and ensuring that high quality palliative care is available to everyone who needs it."

The Evangelical Alliance Scotland has warned that legalising assisted suicide will "lead to more suffering, not less".

"It would send the message to terminally ill patients that ending their life early is something they should consider, adding all sorts of unnecessary anxieties and stresses in the most vulnerable moments of someone's life," it said.

"After two years of Covid-19, these pressures are the last thing we need to introduce within our palliative care services."

Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer at CARE for Scotland, also questioned the timing of the legislation during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"As Scotland battles to contain the latest variant of a virus that has tragically already cut short the lives of far too many, it would be a dreadful thing to simultaneously introduce legislation authorising suicide for some of our most vulnerable fellow Scots," he said.

"No safeguards could ever prevent the invisible pressure on already sick and vulnerable people to consider such an option." 

MSPs have twice rejected proposals to legalise assisted suicide. Mr Veitch urged them to do so again with Mr McArthur's proposals. 

"There are many ways to help suffering people at the end of life. Giving them the means to commit suicide isn't one of them," he said. 

The Christian Medical Fellowship's Jennie Pollock said that assisting patients in killing themselves was not the solution to issues around end-of-life care. 

She called instead for more investment in palliative care to make it available for all who need it. 

"The problem is not that palliative care is ineffective. It is that palliative care is not accessible to all who need it," she said.

"The solution is not to eradicate the patient, but to invest in training and provision of more excellent palliative care services.

"Legalising assisted dying would inevitably strengthen the perception that people with certain types of disease or disability have lives 'not worth living', that they would be 'better off dead', and that the costs of their care would be better directed towards healthcare provision for the more socially or economically 'productive' members of society.

"Far better help is available for patients in great suffering and distress than many people realise. Let us promote that help and make it available to all, killing the pain, not the patients."

A number of church leaders have also expressed concern about the contents of the legislation. 

Rev Brian R More, of Newton Mearns Baptist Church in Glasgow, said the pandemic had renewed his appreciation for the moral value and quality of all human life.

"I want to live in a country where weakness and vulnerability isn't a defining reason to consider the worth one's life or legitimising any reason for the need to end it," he said.

"There is shallow compassion in the hope to have assisted dying in Scotland. The faux-moral sophistication around this issue is a dangerous thing. So is Liam McArthur's reductionistic compassion of euthanasia. We have never lived in a period of history when modern medicine renders this legislation surplus to requirement."

Andy Hunter, Scotland Director of The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, said that legalising assisted suicide "will inevitably create an environment for the most vulnerable in our society in which choosing to live will become as much of a choice as choosing to die".

He warned of a slippery slope if the law is changed.

"In such a world it is not hard to see how people could begin to feel (or be made to feel) that by choosing to live, and thus depending on the care and resources of others, they are being selfish," he said. 

"For the State to sanction the taking of life on the basis of its perceived 'value' or 'quality' would be to fundamentally change the balance of power between citizens and Government.

"The protection of our society's most vulnerable members depends on Government holding it as sacrosanct never to countenance any involvement in the killing of any of its citizens on such a basis.

"There will, of course, be cases that will test such a principle due to their harrowing nature – nevertheless it is a principle that once overturned will inevitably result in the demand for further pragmatic extensions."