Health and Care Bill: Bishop of Durham opposes amendment on assisted dying

On 16th March 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Health and Care Bill at the report stage. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate, stating his opposition to an amendment that would require parliament to consider a bill permitting assisted dying:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I agree with those who have already spoken opposing the amendment. First, the amendment is not appropriate as a use of the legislative process accompanying this Bill through your Lordships’ House. There is a question of purpose. If opportunity for debate is the goal, we must underestimate neither the significance of the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in October and the thorough, careful and considered debate, nor the possibilities of calling for Committee. I would also support that time being given in this House. There are important constitutional questions which arise if the amendment enacted by this House does in fact instruct the Secretary of State in the other place to propose and introduce a draft Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just outlined. If that is not the case—and if the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not advocating for this draft to be introduced—what is the purpose of the amendment?

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Bishop of Chichester warns of unintended consequences of assisted suicide bill

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.


Bishop of Carlisle – need to improve palliative care, not legalise assisted suicide

On October 22nd 2021 Peers debated the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, at its Second Reading.

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Davidson, on such an excellent speech

My colleagues on these Benches have already expressed our profound opposition to any change in the law on assisted dying so I will not repeat the cogent points that they have already made. I hope it will be apparent that our position is not only theological but rooted in our pastoral experience and that of many chaplains in hospitals and hospices and clergy across the land, with arguments that, as this debate has effectively revealed, are important to a wide variety of people, whatever their beliefs.

I remember, when we last debated this issue in your Lordships’ House, being asked in a radio interview, “What’s new in this debate?” In terms of arguments rather than opinions, I am not at all sure that much was new then, and even less is new now. So in the brief time allocated to me today, I will simply reiterate two issues that have been raised several times but which seem of particular significance in this powerful, respectful and very moving discussion, in which we know that compassion motivates every one of us.

Continue reading “Bishop of Carlisle – need to improve palliative care, not legalise assisted suicide”

Assisted Dying Bill would make vulnerable less safe – Bishop of Durham

On October 22nd 2021 Peers debated the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, at its Second Reading.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I begin by noting the simple courtesy that has been expressed so far during the debate today. We know that humanity at its best always wants the best for the people we love, and we act to protect them where we can. It is natural to want to ease hardships and burdens for our loved ones, especially in a time of pain, but also in a time of rising care costs and stretched health services. But human beings do not always act in the best way. We are flawed creatures.

There is a very real danger that individuals will feel that they have become a burden and thus think that the dutiful option to their families is to end their life. In Oregon and Canada, where assisted dying has been legalised, fear of being a burden to family actually frequently accompanies the requests. The scope for abuse and pressure for people to end their lives is significant. It is not a giant leap but a small step. The practice of weighing the value of lives against emotional and financial cost simply is dehumanising.

The consequences of the Bill to the most vulnerable have to be deeply considered. If the value of people’s lives is called into question, it is likely that those who have been historically undervalued and overlooked will be again. Those with disabilities and mental health issues, and other minorities, are already vulnerable, and the difference of experience between those groups and others has again been evident during the pandemic. The Bill acts on the principle that people should have the ability to act upon their will to end their lives, but we have seen instances over the pandemic, as reported by the Care Quality Commission, of “do not attempt CPR” decisions that have been made either without or against the will of the vulnerable. Perhaps even more troubling was the aspect of the report by the CQC, which said that those decisions

“were being applied to groups of people”.

In a stretched and overwhelmed health service that has supported us over a long pandemic, safeguards against oversight cannot be guaranteed. What would have been the outcome of the pandemic if the medical stakes had been higher?

We must not overlook the cultural implications of passing a Bill that leads anyone to measure the worth of someone else’s life. Who are we to put a value on human life or determine that, in some instances, the person is not worth the cost? Let us not abandon the imperative principle that is innate to us of valuing every human life and protecting and caring for the vulnerable.

If I may, I have a reminder for the noble Lord, Lord Vinson:

“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs”—

and then his side was pierced.


Archbishop of Canterbury opposes Bill on assisted suicide

On October 22nd 2021 Peers debated the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, at its Second Reading.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and listened with great attention to her extremely powerful speech. This is an issue on which many of us have personal experiences, often painful and difficult. There is unanimity on these Benches that our current law does not need to be changed, but I know that people of faith hold differing views. No doubt we will hear those today and I look forward to them.

Everyone here shares the best of intentions. We should recognise that in how we listen and respond to each other. I hope no one will seek to divide the House today, but I welcome the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Winston, because it draws our focus towards our use of language. We need clarity and precision in our terms.

Christ calls his followers to compassion, but compassion must not be drawn too narrowly—a point made indirectly and powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. It must extend beyond those who want the law to provide help to end their lives to the whole of society, especially those who might be put at risk. Our choices affect other people. The common good demands that our choices, rights and freedoms must be balanced with those of others, especially those who may not be so easily heard.

Continue reading “Archbishop of Canterbury opposes Bill on assisted suicide”

Bishop of Winchester asks if Ministers will meet those concerned about change to law on assisted suicide

On 23rd May 2019 Baroness Meacher asked the Government “what assessment they have made of whether the threat of prosecutions under the Suicide Act 1961 is causing suffering to mentally competent, terminally ill people at the end of their lives.” The Bishop of Winchester, Rt Revd Tim Dakin, asked a follow-up question:

Continue reading “Bishop of Winchester asks if Ministers will meet those concerned about change to law on assisted suicide”

Bishop of Worcester speaks against legalisation of assisted suicide in UK

WorcesterOn Monday 6th March 2017, Baroness Jay of Paddington tabled a debate in the House of Lords, asking the Government “what assessment they have made of recent legislation on assisted dying in North America; and whether those laws provide an appropriate basis for legislation in England and Wales.” The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Revd John Inge, spoke in the debate.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I oppose assisted dying not on religious, but on human grounds. Surely the only place in North America where legislation has been in place long enough to draw any reasonable conclusions is Oregon. The claim of those pressing for assisted suicide here, that there have been no documented cases of abuse or coercion in the two decades since it was passed, is highly contentious. Continue reading “Bishop of Worcester speaks against legalisation of assisted suicide in UK”

1936 – Archbishop Lang and the Voluntary Euthanasia (Legalisation) Bill

In 1936 the House of Lords debated the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Bill, the first of its kind to come before the UK Parliament. Its rejection set the pattern for future Bills in both Houses for the eight decades to come.

Parliament 1930sThe Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Bill 1936 sought to allow mentally competent adults with an incurable condition, accompanied by severe pain, to have assistance in ending their lives. It was proposed by Arthur Ponsonby, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, a former leader of the Labour Party in the Lords and minister under Ramsay MacDonald. He did so in place of the late Lord Moynihan, who a year before had helped found the British Voluntary Euthanasia Society.The Bill was opposed on pragmatic as well as moral grounds by a majority of Peers and rejected at the end of Second Reading in a Division of the House. Among those speaking against were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang and the Bishop of Norwich, Bertram Pollock.

Continue reading “1936 – Archbishop Lang and the Voluntary Euthanasia (Legalisation) Bill”

Assisted Dying Bill – speech by Caroline Spelman

On the 11th September 2015 the House of Commons considered the Assisted Dying Bill, a private member’s bill tabled by Rob Marris MP. Caroline Spelman MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, spoke during the debate.

MPs rejected the Bill in the subsequent vote by 330 to 118 votes. 

Spelman CCQs June 2015 1Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I respect the sincerely held views of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris). The whole nation will be looking at our debate on this issue today and it is right that we show respect for the strongly held views on all sides, but I beg to differ with him.

Historically, our society has abhorred suicide and based that view on the principle of the sanctity of life, but that argument is becoming harder to make in an increasingly secular society. The view that life is a gift from God with all that it entails, including pain and suffering, and that it is not for us to bring it to an end, is perceived to be at odds with the prevailing view of our rights, including a perceived right to end our own life. Continue reading “Assisted Dying Bill – speech by Caroline Spelman”

Bishop of Bristol takes part in debate on Assisted Dying Bill

On 7th November 2014, the House of Lords held the Committee Stage of Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Assisted Dying Bill. The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, spoke to two amendments that he sponsored and co-sponsored. The amendments sought to strengthen the decision-making process surrounding the application and ingestion of the drugs that would be used to enable someone to commit suicide. Following a short debate on the amendments, Lord Falconer agreed to bring back amendments at Report Stage dealing with the period of time between application and ingestion. However, he did not agree to make further changes to his Bill, as he claimed that the Bishop’s concerns were dealt with elsewhere in the Bill.The Bishop did not press his amendments to a vote.

14.03 Bishop of BristolThe Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I may not be the only one who is a bit confused about what is happening. I stand to speak in support of Amendment 12 tabled by my noble friend Lord McColl, but I would like to address noble Lords’ attention to Amendment 77, which stands in my name. I rather hoped it might have been grouped with Amendment 85, but they stand separately grouped now. I would like to reserve the right to come back to Amendment 85 at a later occasion and I hope a later occasion will occur for that to happen.

Amendment 77 deals with something slightly different. Quite rightly, most of our debate today has focused on the decision to apply for assisted suicide and to sign the declaration. However, it is fair to say that the request for assistance with suicide involves two different and discrete decisions: first, there is the decision to apply for it, and then there is the decision to ingest fatal drugs. The Bill makes it clear that there has to be a minimum of 14 days between the application and the actual ingestion of the drugs, except in the case of somebody who is given a prognosis of a month or less and then the time lag reduces to six days. Continue reading “Bishop of Bristol takes part in debate on Assisted Dying Bill”

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