Former Archbishop of Canterbury denounces assisted suicide

"We have to be aware of the reality of pressure on seriously ill patients to take certain decisions," says Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.Reuters

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams of Oystermouth has spoken strongly against assisted suicide.

Parliamentarians are once again considering changing the law to permit assisted suicide, having previously rejected an attempt in 2015.

In a statement to the British Medical Journal, Lord Williams said it was "hard to see that any new facts have emerged in recent years that would justify the changes envisaged."

"The arguments remain essentially the same," he said. 

The former Archbishop said that although he opposed legalising assisted suicide "on religious principle", there were further strong grounds for maintaining a legal ban. 

READ MORE: Do not believe the promises of assisted suicide 'safeguards'

"The concerns that continue to be expressed are about what we believe to be the unacceptably high price of a change in the law," he said. 

Some of these concerns involve pressure on seriously ill patients "which may (very understandably) come from overstrained families as well as overstretched medical systems."

"We should note that fear of such pressure within the medical system may discourage seriously ill patients from seeking appropriate medical help; the issues of doctor-patient trust involved are real," Lord Williams said. 

He questioned whether the quality of palliative care in Britain would diminish "if there are less expensive options", and warned of the difficulty in establishing the conditions for an assisted suicide to be granted.

"There are immensely complicated questions around how the law is to identify conditions that would 'justify' medical intervention that has the direct and intended consequence of ending life," he said, adding, "Many disability groups also have strong views on this set of problems."

His comments stand in stark contrast to another former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who has reiterated his support in the same publication in recent days.

A recent YouGov poll found that only a third of MPs support changing the law to legalise assisted suicide. 

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