By Dave Andrusko
Last month Dr. Peter Saunders wrote a sensitive but straightforward essay that critiqued Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who came out in favor of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill just before the measure had its second reading in the House of Lords on July 18.
As Dr. Saunders reminded his readers, “the Church of England’s position on the matter is (refreshingly) unequivocal”:
‘The Church of England cannot support Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill… Patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship are central to the Church of England’s concerns about any proposal to change the law. Our position on the current Bill before parliament is also consistent with the approach taken by the Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops and with successive resolutions of the General Synod.’
Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, the most senior figure in the Church of Ireland, has now written an essay that strongly rejected Lord Carey’s position. He writes in Friday’s News Letter
“One of the most perplexing aspects of the intervention of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, into the debate in England on the side of assisted dying was that a fundamental Christian tenet – that our life on earth is not our property to do with as we choose – appeared to have eluded him entirely.”
The wife of the Primate of All Ireland died from cancer five years ago, so he is not speaking of something he does have personal experience with.
He begins with a warning:
“It may be tempting to imagine that the current debate in the Westminster parliament on the vexed question of “assisted dying” (or euthanasia as it used to be known) is a matter that will not transfer to Ireland in the foreseeable future.
“This would be unwise in the extreme.”
The letter can be read in its entirety, so let me offer two quotations, one long, one short.
One of the most perplexing aspects of the intervention of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, into the debate in England on the side of assisted dying was that a fundamental Christian tenet – that our life on earth is not our property to do with as we choose – appeared to have eluded him entirely.
Much therefore depends on how we understand the significance of earthly life. If life is simply a personal commodity (and our culture does sadly encourage us to think of everything as a commodity that can be evaluated in terms of its usefulness to us) then life is disposable, entirely at the will of the individual “possessor”. This is clearly not the Christian perspective and, even for the non-believer, it is not an automatic understanding of the significance of life.
Human life, properly understood, is about our relationships, relationship with God and relationship with others on earth.
Individualism – individual rights, individual comfort and individual control – has indeed become the cornerstone of much modern existence, but it is deeply dysfunctional. We belong to God and to one another.
One danger accompanying any movement towards assisted dying is an insidious pressure it would bring to many people, and at the most vulnerable time of their life, when they are about to leave this earth.
The Most Reverend Dr. Clarke keenly understands that none of us wants to be considered a “burden,” but this leads too many to a fundamental misunderstanding: asking to die is “not an act of generosity” to their families. He explains
“This is where human relationships, and the certainty of human love and support that accompany those relationships, are so crucial for those who are facing the end of earthly life.”
The headline on the essay is “Are we helping to die or helping to live?” His concluding paragraph makes clear Archbishop Clark’s position:
“I do however believe that if we can bring ourselves to believe that all life is a gift of God, then the end of an earthly life can truly be more about helping others to live than helping them to die.”