Catholic bishops in the U.K. have joined forces with other faith leaders to oppose legislation that would introduce “assisted dying” as part of end-of-life care.

While the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have submitted written evidence to Westminster’s Health and Social Care Select Committee Inquiry into Assisted Dying, Scottish bishops issued a statement on Thursday, May 18, with other religious leaders opposing a separate bill that is due to be debated at Holyrood, Scotland.

The bill, which is being considered by Holyrood, is sponsored by Member of Scottish Parliament Liam McArthur and would introduce assisted suicide for terminally ill people if ratified by the Scottish Parliament.

The joint statement from faith leaders in Scotland warns that assisted dying “undermines the dignity of the human person, and to allow it would mean that our society as a whole loses its common humanity.”

They continue: “We grieve with those who grieve and identify with those who suffer. We acknowledge the sincerely held motivation of those seeking change but do not believe that this is the correct approach to the alleviation of suffering. There is a very real danger that once legalized, these practices could put pressure on vulnerable individuals to opt for assisted suicide.

“The ways in which similar laws in other countries are being applied, and the effect that its introduction would have on some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the disabled and the elderly, would be extremely detrimental. We are called to care for those who are suffering, not to end their lives.

“The Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and the Scottish Association of Mosques remain firm in their opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“We would call upon members of the Scottish Parliament to consider carefully the implications of this bill, to express their concerns, and to vote against it.”

Meanwhile, parliamentarians in Westminster are currently hearing evidence regarding the law on assisted suicide in England and Wales, which currently states that anyone culpable of assisting with suicide can face imprisonment for up to 14 years. 

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On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, as spokesperson for Life Issues Bishop John Sherrington submitted written evidence in January to the committee, warning that “the evidence from other jurisdictions shows there can be no safe or limited assisted suicide law,” drawing on examples from Oregon and Canada. The full text of his evidence was finally released on Thursday, May 18. 

In the executive summary, Sherrington warns: “Prescribing lethal medication for individuals suffering from suicidal ideation would be a grave betrayal of the public health duty to save life … The experience of other jurisdictions illustrates the slippery slope of assisted suicide legislation from hard cases to more comprehensive provision.

“Oregon, often referenced as a model template for mild assisted suicide legislation, now allows assisted suicide for nonterminal conditions including anorexia, arthritis, and kidney failure.

“Canada, legally and culturally very similar to England and Wales, now offers assisted suicide when death is not ‘reasonably foreseeable.’ Belgium has expanded their provision of assisted suicide to include children. Any legalization of assisted suicide for terminal illnesses in England and Wales would likely be challenged in court on discrimination grounds and extended to allow for cases of nonterminal illnesses and euthanasia in cases of difficulties in self-administering lethal medication.”

He concludes, on behalf of all the Bishops of England and Wales: “We reiterate the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting and valuing life at all stages, no matter how physically or psychologically limited, and our opposition to assisted suicide as an attack on the inherent dignity of human life.”

It is expected that the final report published by the Health and Social Committee will be used by pro-euthanasia campaigners to apply further pressure to legalize assisted suicide and/or euthanasia in England and Wales.

The law on assisted suicide is devolved throughout the U.K. with Westminster, Holyrood, and the parliaments of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, all in the process of considering the issue separately.

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