On October 22nd 2021 Peers debated the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, at its Second Reading.
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I feel constrained to begin with a theological view, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, challenged us to do. It is simply this: in the Christian view, God does not inflict evil on people. Indeed, the man God, Jesus Christ himself, sharing our life, experienced the evil and suffering of the cross in order that we, in the darkest moments of death, might find hope and the recovery of life in heaven. I believe that, in this debate, we have been treading on sacred ground as we have listened to personal stories, and we have done so with reverence.
Most of all, I want to speak about the wider context of vulnerability and to do so from the experience of the parishes where I have served; for example, the sex workers in the back streets of Plymouth, the largely black and Asian communities in Leicester, and the bedsits and overcrowded flats of Hastings, home to people with severe mental health issues and/or drug dependency. At the point of facing terminal illness, such people would reveal overwhelmingly that they have no family, and few friends or responsible partners to assist them through reaching the point of final death. Indeed, in many cases, they have had no experience of being given autonomy or power over their lives; at the end of their lives, they are woefully ill prepared for taking responsibility for their death.
The sanctity of life is central to Christian faith. It is also a view held with honour and conviction by people of other faiths, as we have heard. The Church’s sense of responsibility for all people stems from this conviction—responsibility especially for the vulnerable when they face death too often alone, but, at the moment, with the fundamental bulwark of protection in the law. This was a point made powerfully by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and, more recently, the noble Lord, Lord Herbert.
Many contributors have raised significant doubts about the level of trust in the capacity of the judiciary and the medical profession to meet the extraordinary demands of disadvantaged communities when terminal illness and incapacity face them. The call from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and others for urgent and sustained investment in palliative care would be a positive and worthy outcome to this important debate on a Bill whose humane intentions I respect profoundly but which, I believe, would lead to unintended consequences and which we should not let pass.