On 16th January 2015, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, and the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke during the Committee Stage of Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Assisted Dying Bill. Subjects debated included the terminology used in the text and title of the Bill, and clarifications of the relationship between patients and the medical practitioners required to treat them. The debate on the Bill was suspended at the end of the day. The Bill is unlikely to make further progress during the current Parliament. There were also two divisions on the Bill, and more details can be found here.
Both bishops spoke during the debate on an amendment to replace the world ‘Dying’ in the title and the body of the Bill with ‘Suicide’. Amendment 12B was put to a vote, which was defeated.
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I speak in support of the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Winston and Lord Deben. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has just made clear, the Bill seeks to amend Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961. This should be made explicit throughout the Bill: it will allow doctors to assist in the suicide of a terminally ill patient. Regardless of a person’s state of health, if they deliberately end their own life, they are committing suicide rather than simply hastening the process of dying. Anyone else involved in this act is assisting a suicide.
In making this as clear as possible, the amendments in this grouping, some of which have my name attached to them, are seeking to be constructive. As has been mentioned, some strident voices in society claim that this is a euthanasia Bill; it is clearly not. But outside this place, there is some confusion about what the Bill is seeking to legalise, which must be dispelled. First, doctors must understand exactly what the Bill will require of them. Secondly, the terminally ill, who might seek to take advantage of provisions within the Bill, must understand that ultimately they will be required to take their own lives. Finally, society must understand the change to the law that Parliament is considering.
The amendments encourage us to move beyond mere slogans. They introduce an element of clarity which is a prerequisite for proper scrutiny. They also bring sharply into focus what the Bill seeks to do and what it does not.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, briefly, the debate is now running into the sand a little and I hope that we can move on. I have great sympathy here for the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. The word “suicide” could be applied to a member of the French resistance who, knowing that he was going to be captured and thinking that he would not be able to resist the Gestapo, took own life—an action I would completely understand—but it could also be applied to a suicide bomber. The word is so multivalent that once we start discussing it, we get into this interminable process. I suggest that we have now heard the arguments and should move on.
The Bishop of Carlisle spoke during the debate on amendments to clarify the relationship between a patient and the medical practitioners involved in their treatment. Amendment 13 was put to a vote, which was defeated.
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, very briefly, I support Amendment 13, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the other amendments in this group.
I note the detailed points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I am struggling a bit with them. However, it seems to me that these amendments are generally sensible and important. The arguments in favour have been very well and movingly advanced. They would make this proposed legislation safer, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, suggested.
I shall take this opportunity to point out that our support for these and other amendments does not in any sense signify the Church of England’s support for the overall intention of the Bill. I am sure this applies to other Members of your Lordships’ House. Some suggestion has been made, not least in the media, that our position lacks clarity. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have every sympathy with and respect for—I cannot emphasise this too much—the honourable and compassionate motives that inspire the Bill’s proponents, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, indicated.
The church’s stance on assisted dying was made abundantly clear by the General Synod in 2012. When this subject was debated then, not a single member of it opposed a motion to keep the current law. Of course, some individual church members may and clearly do disagree but, to avoid any misunderstanding as we debate these amendments, that remains our corporate stance for reasons of principle and pragmatism that have already been very well rehearsed in this House.