The 8:10 interview on Radio 4 last week was concerned with the Assisted Dying Bill currently going through Parliament. It was an even-handed discussion allowing both sides to give their views fairly. But I was provoked a little bit when Michael Forsyth said,
“I think people should come out and say what they really mean. That they believe God is the only person who has the right to say when a person should die.”
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson picked it up in her response and was quick to clear herself of any hint of religion: “I’m an atheist” she urgently declared.
What is going on? What is it about believing in God that disqualifies us from this debate? What secret bias are we meant to be hiding? What Machiavellian plots have we hatched in church vestry’s up and down the country? Or is it our perceived naivety that means we have no say in this matter? That science and medicine and politics are too complicated for knuckle dragging God botherers?
Well, let’s say it publicly and unashamedly. We believe in God and we believe that God does ‘have a say’ in when people die.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s state confidently that it is because we believe in God that we have something to bring to this debate. And while we’re at it let’s address who’s really being naive in the Assisted Dying debate.
We are not naive about pain and suffering
Christians understand pain and suffering, our faith is founded on it. We are not idealists, pretending it doesn’t exist, or stoics, seeing virtue in pain for its own sake, nor are we hedonists who would rather die than suffer.
We understand pain and suffering because we are intimately involved in dealing with it. We mourn with those who mourn, we visit the sick and we assist the dying. We do not live lives in perfect HD, we are in the muck and misery of life. Like any sane individual, we would, if we could, take it all away but we know that this is a fallen and broken world, cursed by sin and we are all casualties of that in one way or another.
We are not naive about Greed
I have the highest regard for some of those who push forward the argument for Assisted Dying. I can understand the terrible impotence of sitting with a loved one and having no way of helping take away their pain. I believe them when they say they want a limited way to alleviate dreadful anguish in what doctors assume to be the final weeks of life.
But their high minded aims are dreadfully naive in the real world.
In the real world the NHS is constantly in need of mind boggling sums of money. One of the reasons for that is because of the cost of complex care packages particularly for the elderly who, we are constantly reminded, are living longer. Meanwhile the Government is still trying to work out how to fund care for elderly people in care homes. It is naive to think that once assisted dying is legalised there won’t be pressure, subtle or otherwise to expand the parameters for who qualifies for assisted dying for the sake of the economy.
In families too, where children are struggling to hold down two jobs and grandchildren are struggling for money to buy a house or saddled with student debt, money is a really issue. Are we so naive we can’t imagine a situation where a Great Grandparent sitting alone in a care home isn’t going to consider finding a way to end it all and pass on the inheritance? Do we really think they don’t think it already?
Right now the proposed rules wouldn’t allow that. But the proposal is based on the individuals ‘right’ to choose their time of death. Once the door is open, who could deny other people, people who aren’t terminally ill, but merely old and decrepit, the ‘right’ to make their own choice about their own time of death?
For that matter what disease is more appalling to contemplate than dementia? There are surely children who in their darkest moments wish their parent could have an ‘honourable’ end and likewise, parents who, in their fleeting lucid moments, would ask for one.
Worst of all are those children who would agitate, hint and suggest that, with not much time left to live, maybe now is the right time to say goodbye (and with it leave a healthy inheritance).
We’re not naive about Evil
That last sentence was hard to write. I don’t want to think of someone so callous they would usher their loved one to an early grave for the sake of money. But then, I’m not naive. I believe in evil. After Dr Harold Shipman murdered hundreds of his patients you’d be naive not to.
The Assisted Dying Bill would require the agreement of two doctors and a High Court Judge. It feels quite secure. But in reality, with time and paperwork and administration and pressure from other professionals and everything else, do we really think that every doctor would always make a fully informed decision? Once the dust settles and this becomes normal do we really, really believe there won’t be times when a Doctor signs a form or a High Court Judge passes a ruling against their better judgement?
We’re not naive about unintended consequences
When we say euthanasia, we think abortion. One of the key arguments made in favour of abortion is that legal procedures are safer than ‘backstreet abortions’. When abortion was legalised in 1967 one can imagine many MPs voted for it to save the lives of women who were dying. However, it led to thousands and thousands of abortions being performed; a number far larger than the number dying at the hands of unqualified surgeons in dirty clinics.
The point is not that one life outweighs another but that the limited permission asked for was not commensurate with what followed. When MPs ask today for limited assisted dying, no doubt they are thinking of those few people who feel competent to make their own decision. The history of abortion does not suggest that the matter will remain there. All of the things we fear about assisted dying and all the things we are told we don’t need to worry about are seen over and over with abortion.
We’re not naive about what’s really going on
This is a desperately sad discussion and should be approached with grace and empathy and love.
However we are not naive about what’s going on here. This is one more argument in favour of the individual. In the end it comes down to ‘my body, my right’.
I disagree with Michael Forsyth. I think God is sovereign and it is not in our rights to enable people to commit suicide. However setting aside that view, this is still desperately naive.
We are living in terrible confusion. We are utterly confused about the status of life in the womb. We can’t agree on gender. We expose our children to all kinds of things online and, then, wondering why they’re sad we medicate them. We swap partners, as quickly as we trade horrendous insults on social media. We can’t agree on our history and can barely work out what real culture is anymore. We anaesthetise ourselves on entertainment.
Right now we would be wise to leave this discussion for another day. But hoping to find wisdom in our mixed up culture? That really is naive.