The Assisted Dying Bill has its second reading on 22 October 2021, when there will be a full debate in the House of Lords. The Catholic Church remains opposed to any form of assisted suicide and we will scrutinise and continue to challenge this proposed legislation in the months ahead. We reaffirm our support for high quality end-of-life care, which includes spiritual and pastoral support for the one who is dying and their family. The Bill is likely to have its second reading debate in the House of Lords on the 22 October 2021. If approved, it will proceed to a Committee stage on a later date where it can be scrutinised and amended line by line.
Proposed Assisted Dying legislation arrives at a time when we have a growing elderly population, persistent exclusion and inequality for disabled people and a very real health and social care crisis. Experience during the pandemic is also pertinent, especially the number of care home deaths and the use or ‘misuse’ of ‘Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation’ notices for elderly and disabled people.
This context coupled with the textual vagueness of the Bill raises a number of serious questions about law and society’s ability to protect the most vulnerable. How can the law ensure that a person is free from pressure from ending their life prematurely due to societal attitudes and perceptions about ‘quality’ or ‘worth’ of life?
How can the law ensure person is acting voluntarily and not out of a sense of ‘being a burden’ to family, to health and social care services and to society?
Oregon, Belgium, Canada and other jurisdictions are held up as examples as to why the UK should follow suit in legalising assisted suicide. Yet, evidence in these countries overwhelmingly indicates that the introduction of laws for a ‘small number of cases’ inevitably leads to exponential growth in those seeking ‘assisted dying’:
Similarly, an expansion of grounds upon which ‘assisted suicide’ is permitted follows suit with its legislation. Laws have been expanded in some jurisdictions to include assisted suicide for children, non-terminal illness and non-terminal psychiatric illness. Laws are also being challenged with regards to allowing the elderly to request assisted suicide when their life is ‘complete’ or if they have dementia. Evidence shows that liberalisation of these laws seems to always follow. This is a serious risk, and can we expect the situation in England to be any different?
Faced with suffering and illness, our response should be one of compassion. This finds expression in high-quality and holistic end of life care for the one who is dying and their family. Rather than assisting suicide and bringing care and life to an end, we should be working to ensure people have access to the very best of end-of-life care when they need it.
Organisations and medical professionals have done much good work in debunking myths and popular perceptions around end-of-life care and what a ‘a good death’ can and does look like, there is much more to be done here. The provision of quality palliative care should be a priority and reality for all who have need of it. ‘Assisted Dying’ could be seen as a quick and cheap alternative to proper end-of-life care.
Can we expect a full range of choice to be given to us, in the event of terminal illness, should this Bill make the statue books? It is interesting to note that those working closest with people at the end of their lives, are often those most opposed to assisted suicide within the medical profession.
Please consider writing to Members of the House of Lords or Commons and asking them to oppose this Bill. Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences of ‘dying well’ and ‘end of life care’ if you have them through your work or personal life. Guidance on how to do this can be found on the UK Parliament’s website.
You can find MPs and Lords contact details using these links: