Does Assisting Dying, Eradicate Suffering?

Haydon Spenceley's opinion on the Assisted Dying Bill. 

I get scared quite easily. I’ve always been an anxious sort, sometimes fearful. I’m prone to seeing trouble and the potential for disaster round every corner. This can be quite problematic, given that I claim to live my life following the pattern set by a God who repeatedly tells His people to “fear not”, and likes to begin most of His interactions with humanity with: “Do not be afraid.” It can quite often feel like an act of disobedience just to feel the way that I do. My head is a confusing place.

I say this as a (slightly random) preamble to writing an article that I’m a bit frightened of writing, about a subject that frightens me. The proposed assisted dying legislation brought forward to parliament by Labour MP Rob Marris. This bill is likely to be largely based on Lord Falconer’s failed bill. Why am I afraid? Well, for one, this is a nuanced and emotive issue. For another, I’m not going to claim to know enough about this to be an expert. If you want to know more about the proposed policy, I strongly suggest you take the time to read up. Seek God’s heart on this issue.

If you want my opinion – and you might, you made it to paragraph three after all – this is one piece of legislation amongst a gathering tide that is influencing public opinion against those perceived as weak. We are seeking to become stronger, more profitable, more high-functioning, with one by-product of this being an attempt to eradicate suffering. While this law seeks to end suffering for those who are at the end stages of life, which in one sense is humane, the idea that there are acceptable and unacceptable levels of suffering is a thorny issue. I don’t like suffering. I’ve never suffered anything like as much as anyone who has found themselves in this kind of position, so I am not qualified to judge at all.

At the same time, as the level of suffering humanity deems to be acceptable is subtly pushed lower and lower, how much will we endure? Who will judge the level of acceptable suffering? Who will have agency? Will it be me, or will the decision be taken from me? Will I become willing to leave the decision to others because I, and the society around me, do not deem my decision making prowess sufficient to make a wise decision for the benefit of myself and those around me? I wonder about all of these things.

In theory this law provides an opportunity for those in what we as humans perceive to be dire straits to be given a way out. Isn’t that compassion? A Christian quality if ever there was one. In my opinion, the currently proposed ‘safeguards’ have too much potential for abuse to be safe at all.

Falconer’s bill sought to grant physician-assisted suicide for mentally competent terminally ill adults who have six months or less to live. Due to time constraints, Falconer’s bill didn’t complete its passage through the last parliament.

For me, these proposals rely too much on the integrity of doctors and judges not to collude against a person’s will. Most doctors and judges are people of integrity. We all know that none of us, though, are perfect. In the hands of the wrong people the consequences could be extremely painful; we could find ourselves on a slippery slope where it becomes palatable to individuals and societies as a whole to deem people with particular conditions, or lack of ability to ‘contribute’ in a ‘hard-working’ way to society, to be deemed a drain on the resources of those around them. Isn’t the level of corporate suffering too high? Wouldn’t the right thing to do for those individuals and for the society as a whole to relieve their burdens of suffering?

Even as I’m agonising over each sentence here – and believe me, I am – I can hear some potential answers to my speculation. “You’re being overly-dramatic.” Perhaps I am. “You’re missing the point, it’s about a very small group of people who are currently being denied something which is readily available to all.” Yes, maybe as things currently stand I am. The thing is, I can see a vision of the future where it is not me who decides if my condition reaches a point which I consider untenable, but somebody else deems it their place to decide that for me. That really scares me. Last of all, “the bill won’t get through anyway, what’s the problem?” Well, each time these proposals come forward they are worded more and more tightly, they gain support from the public and from more politicians. One day proposals like these might get voted through. How will we respond? Do we consider that a response would be necessary?

I believe that God suffers with those who suffer and rejoices with those who rejoice. I believe that Jesus suffered more than any other human ever has – think about that for a second, think about the person you know, or have read about, who suffered terribly, feel your indignation rising at the hubris of such a statement. I still believe the statement to be true. Those of us who are Christians enter in to the fellowship of his sufferings, at precisely the same time that we are rejoicing that we are new creations, that we have life, have it to the full and are to share the hope of Jesus with others.

And yet we still suffer. Many people reading this may live with the wish to die. I have, as I’ve written here beforemany times. Some of us may not see a future, a hope, a reason to keep going until tomorrow. The job of the Church is to honour the weakest parts of the body. Those who suffer are not necessarily the weakest parts. Some people who live day by day in constant pain, who know their diagnosis to be terminal, are among the strongest members a Church body can have. We are called to pray. We are called to love. We are called to seek healing, wholeness and reconciliation. And if all of that seems to bring no result, to seem hopeless, we are called, continually to seek courage to continue walking in the way of the Cross.

I personally hope that the Marris Bill does not succeed. You may well disagree. Perhaps violently (I shan’t be reading the comments on this piece). What I hope is that we will remember to pray for those whose lives have reached such a point that the proposals of the bill provide their only hope.

It’s easy for us to say that our nation needs Jesus. It does. What kind of Jesus are we saying it needs? The one who makes everything ok (the one who does not exist) or the one who stands with the despised, the hurting, the hopeless and says “fear not, do not be afraid, I am with you”.

If you feel strongly about this issue, do not let the opportunity to make your voice heard pass by. Read up, think, pray, write to your MP – please do – Evangelical Alliance have made it quite convenient – encouraging them to engage in the debate, and to vote, as and when the opportunity comes.

Thanks for reading.

I’m still scared.

 

This piece first appeared at http://www.threadsuk.com/assist-suicide-eradicate-suffering/

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