English Catholic bishop: Assisted suicide bill sends message ‘some lives are not worth fighting for’

Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham, England Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham, England. | Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

A bishop urged Catholics this week to oppose a bill seeking to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales, saying that a change in the law would send the message that “some lives are not worth fighting for.”

Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham, central England, made the appeal in a video posted on Sept. 1 in response to draft legislation known as the Assisted Dying Bill.

The bill, sponsored by Molly Meacher, a member of the upper house of Parliament, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with less than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge.

“Introducing a system which would license assisted suicide for the terminally ill would send the message -- however unintentionally -- that some lives are no longer worth fighting for,” the bishop said.

“Our law as it stands, which prohibits assisted suicide, sends a clear message: we do not involve ourselves in bringing about the death of another person, no matter how ill or depressed they might feel.”

“This is the surest way to protect those who are nearing the end of their lives from abuse, coercion or, indeed, internal pressure to choose assisted death out of fear of burdening their loved ones.”

The bill passed its first reading in the House of Lords on May 26 and is awaiting a date for its second reading. It is the latest in a long line of attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the U.K. Some pro-lifers believe that the bill poses the greatest challenge yet.

“The most significant attempt was in 2015, when the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected a private member’s bill which would have legalized assisted dying for terminally ill adults,” noted McKinney, who was appointed to lead Nottingham diocese in the same year.

“This year, an almost identical bill, sponsored by Baroness Meacher, has passed its first reading in the House of Lords and is expected to be debated by members of the House, once it reaches its second reading this autumn.”

The bishop said that if the new private members’ bill became law, healthcare professionals could supply seriously ill people with lethal drugs with the intention of helping them end their lives.

“Enthusiasts for a change in the law like to euphemistically label this controversial proposal as ‘assisted dying,’ when in fact what they are demanding is assisted suicide for seriously unwell, vulnerable people,” he said.

The 67-year-old bishop said that offering patients in despair “a lethal prescription” would mark “a disturbing shift in our culture of care.”

He suggested that advocates of assisted suicide would not be satisfied with the terms of the present bill.

“It would also be naïve to believe that, once a bill such as Baroness Meacher’s is made law, demands for assisted suicide would simply be limited to those who are terminally ill,” he said.

“If the purpose of assisted dying is to alleviate suffering, then why should it be limited to the terminally ill with only six months to live?”

“Campaigners will inevitably argue that it should also be allowed for those who have years of suffering ahead of them, due to chronic illness or disability.”

He said that the experience of Canada showed how rapidly “supposed safeguards” could be swept away, extending assisted suicide far beyond the terminally ill.

More in Europe

On March 17, the Canadian Senate approved Bill C-7, which expanded the eligibility for “Medical Assistance in Dying.”

The legislation stripped the requirement that people seeking assisted suicide must have a “reasonably foreseeable” death, and also allowed people to opt for assisted suicide with mental illness as a sole underlying condition.

In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Since then, supporters of the practices have made gains in several European countries.

Austria’s top court ruled in December 2020 that assisted suicide should no longer be a criminal offense.

In February this year, Portugal’s parliament backed a bill approving euthanasia. But President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the legislation.

Also in February, Catholic leaders and human rights advocates expressed concern over a bill seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Ireland. But the Dying with Dignity Bill failed to progress.

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Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled in February that a provision in the German Criminal Code criminalizing commercial assisted suicide was unconstitutional.

In March, Spain’s legislature passed a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, making Spain the fourth country in Europe to approve the practices, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Pope Francis was asked to comment on the move in Spain in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE aired on Sept. 1.

“In Italy, the average age is 47 years old. In Spain, I think it is older. That is to say, the pyramid has been inverted. It is the demographic winter at birth, in which there are more cases of abortion,” he said.

“The demographic culture is in loss because we look at the profit. It looks to the one in front... and sometimes using the idea of compassion: ‘that this person may not suffer in the case of…’ What the Church asks is to help people to die with dignity. This has always been done.”

Bishop McKinney urged Catholics to write to members of the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, and the House of Lords, expressing their opposition to the bill.

“Please convey this vital message: that a prescription for lethal drugs is not the civilized solution for vulnerable people seeking a dignified and peaceful end,” he said.

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