Church of England Stands Firm against Euthanasia

The debate over the UK's drafted Mental Capacity Bill has reignited as a House of Lords select committee hears its final day of evidence on the Bill that could allow mercy killings for the terminally ill.

The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has taken the opportunity to defend the Church’s stern opposition against Euthanasia once again.

The drafted Mental Capacity Bill submitted in September 2004 to the select committee would establish a legal presumption that everybody is able to make decisions regarding treatment unless proved otherwise. It would allow people to empower somebody else to make decisions on their behalf. Critics fear the plans could open a "back door" for euthanasia.

In yesterday’s The Times newspaper, Dr Williams clearly declared that the Church of England can never soften its line on euthanasia based on human and ethical reasons. Dr Williams is very concerned that the drafted bill not only allows patients to die for convenience, but also has in it imposed an ethical responsibility on those who assist the patient to execute his "right".

Dr Williams argued that the right to be spared avoidable pain for the terminally ill is beyond debate. He said for someone with religious beliefs to say that they wanted to die was for them to feel that their life had no value.

"That would be, in the eyes of most traditional believers, Christian or otherwise, an admission that faith had failed," he said.

He criticised the government for overlooking the responsibility of those who would be involved in assisting the dying. They are responsible because it is a matter about how society thinks about life and its possible meanings.

Lord Goldsmith QC, Attorney General, is due to give legal evidence to the drafted bill but will not be allowed to express his or the Government's view on the proposed changes put forward by Lord Joffe.

The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are standing in line to battle against the bill, as shown in their joint statement. Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, in a covering letter to the chairman of the Select Committee Lord Mackay, said, "We believe very strongly that respect for human life at all its stages is the foundation of a civilised society, and that the long term consequences of any change in the law to allow euthanasia in limited circumstances would be immensely grave."

In a statement, the Churches were both concerned that "the bill would fundamentally undermine the duty of the state to care for vulnerable people. It would risk a gradual erosion of values in which over time the cold calculation of costs of caring properly for the ill and the old would loom large. As a result many who are ill or dying would feel a burden to others. The right to die would become the duty to die."

The Churches insist, "The Bill is unnecessary...What terminally ill people need is to be cared for, not to be killed. They need excellent palliative care including proper and effective regimes for pain relief. They need to be treated with the compassion and respect that this Bill would put gravely at risk."

Today in the Guardian newspaper, Crossbench peer Baroness Finlay said the bill could lead to 15,000 assisted suicides in the UK every year. It is worth to note that there had already been 22 cases of Britons travelling to the clinic of the Swiss euthanasia charity Dignitas in Zurich to end their lives.