Bishop of Sheffield makes maiden speech in debate on end of life choices

“The ministry of chaplains in our hospitals and hospices remains a vital part of end-of-life care. Chaplains are present to minister to those of all faiths and of none. They are drawn, of course, from every faith. They are present to offer spiritual support to the dying and to the bereaved, to patients and staff. They are a vital part of the team in end-of-life care as a specialist resource, as experts able to offer training to colleagues and as a point of referral in moments of crisis” – The Bishop of Sheffield

On 12th December 2013, the Bishop of Sheffield made his maiden speech in a debate on patient choice at the end of life. The Bishop of Chester also spoke in the debate, and his speech can be read here.

14.03.27 Bishop of SheffieldLord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, I must begin by thanking your Lordships for the warmth of welcome extended to me here. Thank you also to the staff for their guidance and help. I look forward very much to serving with you in this House and count it an immense privilege to be here.

It is particularly poignant for me to contribute to this debate on patient choice at the end of life as my own father is very seriously ill. Over the last few days I have been involved in a number of conversations with medical staff and my close family about the questions before us today. I am sure that these conversations are familiar to many noble Lords. The matters we debate are of profound importance to those who are near the end of their life, and to their wider families.

The diocese of Sheffield, where I now serve, covers most of south Yorkshire and parts of east Yorkshire. Its communities are vibrant, coherent, friendly and welcoming. Its manufacturing is alive and growing. There are vigorous partnerships between industry, civic life and the universities, including in the area of healthcare. Its people are deeply committed to their local institutions, including their National Health Service.

The city of Sheffield has this year embraced a new commitment to fairness and equality through its Fairness Commission and aims to become the fairest city in Britain in the coming years, including in equality of access to all forms of healthcare.

Like many others, I am grateful to those who have produced the independent review of the Liverpool care pathway. There is much in their report to be welcomed: the valuing of end-of-life care as a specific discipline, the move away from the language of pathway to a personal care plan, the greater shift to patient choice, and greater clarity in decision-making. Like others, I welcome particularly the continued valuing of the hospice movement. The greater shift to patient choice commended in the review does not, of course, include extending patient choice to physician-assisted suicide, something to which I remain opposed and which seems a very different kind of conversation.

I also welcome the work of the Leadership Alliance for the Care of Dying People, and in particular the collaborative partnership and way of working it has established between the medical profession, patients and their families. I note the sense of urgency among those involved in end-of-life care with whom I have spoken that proper provision should be in place soon in every place to replace the Liverpool care pathway, lest an imperfect system be made even worse by a period of uncertainty and confusion.

More Care, Less Pathway calls for a proper national conversation about death, which the Leadership Alliance is taking forward. This takes us to the heart of the issue. The death of someone we love, our own death, is far more than the cessation of life for medical reasons. Death is an existential event which raises and asks significant questions. Those questions are often suppressed, masked by humour or denied, but surface in times of vulnerability throughout our lives. What is it of the human person which endures? What light does death cast on the way in which we live? What is a good death? What does it mean to come to terms with our mortality and, from the Christian perspective, our vocation to eternity?

For all these reasons and more, the ministry of chaplains in our hospitals and hospices remains a vital part of end-of-life care. Chaplains are present to minister to those of all faiths and of none. They are drawn, of course, from every faith. They are present to offer spiritual support to the dying and to the bereaved, to patients and staff. They are a vital part of the team in end-of-life care as a specialist resource, as experts able to offer training to colleagues and as a point of referral in moments of crisis. I invite the Minister in the response to this debate both to affirm the key role of chaplains in this context and to ensure that the part they play is written clearly into the documents which will shape end-of-life care into the future.

I look forward very much to playing my part in the business of your Lordships’ House.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me both to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield for his thoughtful and poignant maiden speech, and to welcome him to your Lordships’ House. I see that, like Moses, he chose to read from a tablet.

I am married to an Anglican whose father and grandfather were, for more than 60 and 50 years, Anglican priests, and there are eight ordained Anglican clergy crossing the generations on my wife’s side of the family. As an outsider, I have seen something of the extraordinary selflessness that characterises the men and women from whom the right reverend Prelate has been drawn.

Steven Croft is a Yorkshireman who, after graduating from the University of Oxford, studied for the priesthood and obtained his doctorate at Durham. After serving in parishes and as a diocesan adviser in Wakefield, he returned to Durham with his family as warden of the university’s Cranmer Hall, St John’s College. This required him to lead the training of men and women for Church of England ministry. He thrived in his new responsibilities, wrote widely about his experiences as a parish priest and began to express increasing concern about the urgent need for the church to engage with a society that has been drifting spiritually but where the Christian faith is needed like never before.

Shortly after Rowan Williams—now the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth—was appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the right reverend Prelate became Archbishops’ Missioner and Fresh Expressions Team Leader. For four years he oversaw the emergence of Fresh Expressions, an initiative of the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, in conjunction with the Methodist Church. Fresh Expressions encourages and resources new ways for the church to engage with the world. The movement has resulted in thousands of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches. The right reverend Prelate is known as a very shrewd and strategic thinker. The energy and determination that he has brought to his work thus far will prepare him perfectly for his duties in your Lordships’ House. Sheffield is lucky to have him. I have no doubt that, as the years pass, we will hear many more thoughtful and challenging contributions to our proceedings, and I know that I speak for all sides of your Lordships’ House when I thank him again for making such an excellent start with his maiden speech…

Lord Joffe: My Lords, I, too, join the welcome of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, and I look forward to his contribution to the important issues that this House considers…

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I was very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, whom we congratulate on his maiden speech, spoke about the Liverpool care pathway…

Baroness Jolly: …I should like to make special mention of the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, which was sensitive, thoughtful and thought-provoking. I am sure that he will make a huge contribution to the work of your Lordships’ House…

(via Parliament.uk)