Tomorrow the House of Lords will debate the Assisted Dying Bill.
The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis defines this Bill thus:
While I appreciate the honest and empathetic intentions that have led Lord Falconer to propose, and others to support, the Assisted Dying Bill, which is to receive its second reading in the House of Lords tomorrow, I am profoundly disturbed to see that it applies the neutral term “assisted dying” to killing, and that it contemplates permitting doctors to administer “medicines” which are, in essence, poisons. and goes on to say
There is no greater value in Judaism than the sanctity of life. Life is the most precious of gifts. It is a gift from God and it is not ours to cut short. Life has an absolute value and its preservation takes precedence over other commandments. This is my guiding principle in approaching this life-and-death question.
On Facebook Lawrence Bryce has created a page specifically for one purpose: The page asks simply that you say a rosary, attend a Holy Hour if your parish is having one, if not – just sit before Our Blessed Lord and pray that this Bill fails.
As one whose health is not infrequently compromised, my prayer is please…. do not help us to die…. help us to live.
The right to die bill will be debated in the Lords tomorrow. Will it pass? Possibly. Whatever happens in the Lords is down to turnout and enough peers may feel strongly enough to turn up and vote it through. That could mean that it would be handed onto the Commons, where it would surely fail. The main party leaders are against it and it probably wouldn’t even be granted time for debate (especially this close to an election). But no matter: it would have been established as something that Parliament is interested in and that is on the political agenda.
We have witnessed an extraordinary, highly emotional campaign in favour of the so-called right to die. It ranges from sympathetic treatment on TV (Hayley in Coronation Street) to a number of celebrities making personal testimonies in support: cue Stephen Hawking lending intellectual and moral weight to the case for assisted suicide. The whole matter is a lesson in how to get a liberal reform made law, even if there is no sizeable constituency for it.
1. Create the sense that that opinion formers are coalescing around the initiative. Note that conservatives rarely do this: can you name a single celebrity who has called for tighter time limits on abortion? By contrast, liberals are very good at building a sense of “intelligent consensus”.
2. Keep campaigning for something until it eventually happens. This might seem obvious, but conservatives have a habit of trying to do something, being defeated and then accepting that the public simply doesn’t agree with them anymore – and moving on. By contrast, liberals will push and push and push until they get their way. The right to die campaign has been going for years: the last Lords vote was in 2006. If they lose this vote, they will hold another. And another. And another. Until it wins by sheer strength of will alone.
3. Ask the right question. Frame the debate in terms of individual rights and use language that makes consideration of the philosophical problems or human realities almost impossible. Convince people that it would be evil to oppose your proposition.
That is what the assisted dying campaigners have done in this debate. They have called what they want the “right to die” – and who can oppose that? Majorities of the public poll in favour of the proposition because when asked “would you want the right to die if you were terminally ill and in pain?”, the incredibly loaded question demands the answer, “yes”. But what if the question was, “do you believe doctors should be granted the right to kill or to help a patient to die?” Then, they might conclude something different.
For that is what this bill is really all about: granting the medical profession the right to assist in the ending of life. I’m not being hyperbolic. The ethical foundation of Western medicine is the idea that the doctor should seek to preserve and enhance life, and cause no harm. This bill perverts that role. And the scope for its application will increase over time. At present, it is limited to the terminally ill and mentally competent, with just six months left to live (the faith this bill places in doctors’ prognoses is charming at best). But the reformers will push and push and push – as they always do – to expand the criteria until Britain becomes like Belgium – a place where even children can be euthanised. Do we really want our legal and medical institutions to be entirely re-orientated away from the preservation of life and towards the normalisation of suicide – assisted by state bureaucrats? Have we become what science fiction writers once only had nightmares about? A civilisation where convenience trumps compassion?
All of the above is why the right to die bill must be defeated in the Lords. Its supporters may be kindly motivated and may have wrenching personal experiences that have brought them to this point. But if society must draw the line anywhere at liberal reform, let it be here.