‘Lethal drugs are not the civilised solution for people seeking a peaceful death,’ says Bishop of Nottingham

The Bishop of Nottingham has spoken out against draft legislation which would legalise assisted suicide, warning that it would send the message that ‘some lives are not worth fighting for.’

In a short message via Youtube today, Bishop Patrick McKinney made an impassioned plea for members of his diocese to speak out against the proposed changes outlined Baroness Meacher’s Bill and “send the message that a prescription for lethal drugs is not the civilised solution for vulnerable people seeking a dignified and peaceful end.”

Baroness Meacher’s latest Bill would allow physician-assisted suicide for terminally-ill adults with less than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. It has passed its First Reading in the House of Lords.

Bishop McKinney said: “We have just lived through a global pandemic where we have all played our part, and many have made huge sacrifices, to protect the most clinically vulnerable members of our society from a potentially deadly virus. This response has clearly affirmed that, as a civilised society, we naturally value the life of each individual, regardless of their age or medical profile.

“Introducing a system which would license assisted suicide for the terminally-ill would send the message - however unintentionally- that some lives are no longer worth fighting for. Our law as it stands, which prohibits assisted suicide, sends a clear message: we do not involve ourselves in bringing about the death of another person, no matter how ill or depressed they might feel. This is the surest way to protect those who are nearing the end of their lives from abuse, coercion or, indeed, internal pressure to choose assisted death out of fear of burdening their loved ones.

“Finally, under our current law and practices, doctors have a duty of care to do everything in their power to make death a peaceful and dignified experience. To offer patients in despair a lethal prescription instead, would represent a disturbing shift in our culture of care.”

He then went on to encourage members of his Diocese to sign up for a Zoom talk, hosted by Nottingham Diocese and delivered by former paralympian, Baroness Grey, entitled: ‘Assisted Dying: A win for personal autonomy or a loss for civil society?’

The bishop continued: “The Baroness will discuss the flaws within the Meacher Bill and the worrying lack of safeguards. We are extremely privileged to have such insights from someone who has courageously fought disability discrimination, and who recognises so clearly the ramifications of the Meacher Bill for both disabled people and our wider society. I encourage all of you listening now to sign up for her talk. This will take place via Zoom on Thursday September 9th at 7.30pm.”

To register for this talk click here


The full text of the Bishop’s talk is pasted below and his YouTube address can be viewed above.

Hello everyone,

I want to invite you to an important event which takes place in our diocese next week, and which touches upon one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

You will know that there’s been a number of attempts in the last decade to legalise assisted dying for the terminally-ill in England and Wales. The most significant attempt was in 2015, when the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected a private member’s bill which would have legalised assisted dying for terminally-ill adults. This year, an almost identical Bill, sponsored by Baroness Meacher, has passed its First Reading in the House of Lords and is expected to be debated by members of the House, once it reaches its Second Reading this Autumn.

This Bill would license ‘assisted dying’ for terminally-ill patients with less than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a Judge of the High Court Family Division. What this means in practice is that seriously ill people, across England and Wales, can be supplied with lethal drugs by NHS healthcare professionals, with the deliberate intention of helping the patient to end their life. Enthusiasts for a change in the law like to euphemistically label this controversial proposal as ‘assisted dying’, when in fact what they are demanding is assisted suicide for seriously unwell, vulnerable people.

We have just lived through a global pandemic where we have all played our part, and many have made huge sacrifices, to protect the most clinically vulnerable members of our society from a potentially deadly virus. This response has clearly affirmed that, as a civilised society, we naturally value the life of each individual, regardless of their age or medical profile.

Introducing a system which would license assisted suicide for the terminally-ill would send the message - however unintentionally- that some lives are no longer worth fighting for. Our law as it stands, which prohibits assisted suicide, sends a clear message: we do not involve ourselves in bringing about the death of another person, no matter how ill or depressed they might feel. This is the surest way to protect those who are nearing the end of their lives from abuse, coercion or, indeed, internal pressure to choose assisted death out of fear of burdening their loved ones. Finally, under our current law and practices, doctors have a duty of care to do everything in their power to make death a peaceful and dignified experience. To offer patients in despair a lethal prescription instead, would represent a disturbing shift in our culture of care.

It would also be naïve to believe that, once a bill such as Baroness Meacher’s is made law, demands for assisted suicide would simply be limited to those who are terminally-ill. If the purpose of assisted dying is to alleviate suffering, then why should it be limited to the terminally-ill with only six months to live? Campaigners will inevitably argue that it should also be allowed for those who have years of suffering ahead of them, due to chronic illness or disability. Canada’s experience is just one example of how quickly an assisted dying law, with supposed safeguards, can expand far beyond those who are terminally-ill.

To return then to my invitation, I hope you can see why it’s important that we deepen our understanding of this complex moral issue for our society. That’s why I have invited Baroness Grey-Thompson to speak to the diocese about the dangers of legalising assisted suicide. She is a former Paralympian, member of the House of Lords and a disability rights campaigner, who speaks for many when she describes her grave concerns relating to assisted suicide. The Baroness will discuss the flaws within the Meacher Bill and the worrying lack of safeguards. We are extremely privileged to have such insights from someone who has courageously fought disability discrimination, and who recognises so clearly the ramifications of the Meacher Bill for both disabled people and our wider society. I encourage all of you listening now to sign up for her talk. This will take place via Zoom on Thursday September 9th at 7.30pm.

Please also to write to your MP and Peers, and make your views known on this highly controversial piece of legislation. Please convey this vital message: that a prescription for lethal drugs is not the civilised solution for vulnerable people seeking a dignified and peaceful end.

With gratitude,

+Patrick

Bishop Patrick McKinney