English bishop urges Catholics to oppose assisted suicide bill

6150083106 3490f9c3b3 c Bishop John Sherrington, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster./ Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

An English bishop is urging Catholics to write to members of the House of Lords urging them to oppose the legalization of assisted suicide in England and Wales.

"I ask you to write to the Peers from your personal experience and share stories which will argue the reasons for opposing the Bill as well as narrate the importance of precious time during the final stages of life," Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary of Westminster and Lead Bishop for Life Issues at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a Sept. 8 open letter.

A bill sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. Meacher is a crossbencher, and chair of Dignity in Dying, which advocates for euthanasia and assisted suicide in the UK.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords with a full debate Oct. 22. It is the latest in a long line of attempts to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales, and some pro-lifers believe that the bill poses the greatest challenge yet.

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961. In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.

Bishop Sherrington noted that “Catholic teaching opposes assisting suicide, since life is a gift to be cared for and preserved until its natural death.”

“The Church is clear that we cannot directly choose to take the life of another, even if they request it. The solidarity of praying and caring for the most vulnerable at this fragile time of their lives is a profoundly Christian act which imitates Our Lady’s prayer at the cross and Christ’s service to the weakest.”

Bishop Sherrington cited Pope Francis’ warnings against false compassion and treating “a human person as a problem...True compassion does not marginalise anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude – much less considers the disappearance of a person as a good thing.”

“Whilst there are clear arguments to support Catholic teachings, it is important to remember that this position is not only a matter of faith but also human reason,” the bishop wrote.

The bishops of the UK have on several occasions affirmed their support for high quality end-of-life care, which includes spiritual and pastoral support for the one who is dying and their family.

Some English bishops have said that other countries, such as Canada, have shown how “safeguards” could be swept away, extending assisted suicide far beyond the terminally ill.

In March 2021, Canada 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 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 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 countries.

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

A bill to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide is currently under consideration in the Australian state of Queensland, and several other Australian states have legalized the practices.

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