Available now – the second of The Solas Papers, dealing with the currently topical issue of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Its author is Dr Peter Saunders, a former surgeon who is now Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Dr Saunders quotes the famous Hippocratic Oath from 600 BC – “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest such counsel”, and he refers to the reaffirmation by the World Medical Association as recently as 2013 of the principle that assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Although there have been several high profile cases in the media in recent years, in which people have argued for the legalisation of euthanasia, the key argument has held sway – that a change in the law would be undesirable as it would open up many vulnerable people to exploitation and abuse.
Dr Saunders refers to the teaching of the Bible that death is an intruder in the world but it is not the end of existence. Christ’s death and resurrection form the basis of Christian teaching about the life to come. He emphasises the Bible’s teaching that life and death are in God’s hands and that intentional killing of the innocent is wrong. He says, “There is no provision in the Bible for killing on grounds of diminished responsibility (on the basis of age or illness) and there is no provision for compassionate killing, even at the person’s request. … Only God has the authority to take human life. He points us to a better way, offering hope, love and compassionate care.”
Answers are given to the view that God’s law has been superseded, to the view that love over-rides law and to the assertion that we must not be legalistic.
He then returns to the powerful argument that a change in the law would put pressure on vulnerable people to have their lives ended. He quotes the chairman of a House of Lords’ Select Committee, Lord Walton of Detchant, who said in Parliament, “We concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that … any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abused. We were also concerned that vulnerable people – the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed – would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.” If assisted suicide or euthanasia were legalised – even with “safeguards” – there would be people who would keep pushing the boundaries and such a decision would be the start of a slippery slope.
It is also argued that persistent requests for euthanasia are rare if people are properly cared for and Dr Saunders highlights the importance of developments in the hospice movement and in palliative care. There may come a point where “enough is enough” and useless or harmful interventions are inappropriate, but “the end of relieving suffering never justifies the means of killing.” Dr Saunders, speaking as a Christian, says, “We will not deny the reality of death or that suffering is part of the human condition but rather be honest and truthful about the diagnoses, prognoses and the effectiveness or limitations of treatment, knowing that people’s greatest need is to face death having made peace with God. And we will not despair in the face of death because we have a hope of something far better beyond the grave.”