John Cheek defends the vulnerable in a public debate.

John Cheek
John Cheek

Death is a taboo topic in society; perhaps the last remaining taboo? Either way, an exception is made at the Chester Debating Society, which invited me to speak on the subject of 'Assisted Dying'. Over a century old, the city-centre Debating Society is one of the longest-running in the country, outside of Universities; a safe haven for those who want to discuss more than just soap-operas or the price of petrol.

Is a 'Christian worldview' possibly taboo, though? Arriving, I felt a sense of apprehension I hadn't felt before - and I have spoken there, on several occasions in recent years. I had been invited to formally oppose the motion 'Assisted Dying should be legalised'. The case in favour, was presented for the first 15 minutes.

The Proposer, though possessing a Law degree, offered little by way of evidence or statistics to support his arguments. Instead, his casual approach had simply claimed that Assisted Dying "must" become reality. There would be safe-guards put in place, he assured us, to protect the vulnerable. Anecdotal evidence about bereavement in his family, leading him to think seriously about Euthanasia and Assisted Dying, was presented as reason-enough for both practices to simply be made legal in the UK.

The smiling faces I noticed in the audience suggested that they were lapping it up, with little sign of critical facilities. He turned to me, as he finished, and took a swipe at the Church, before saying that, "It has the chance to step up to the plate and get on the right side of history." I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

In response, I made it clear I opposed the motion. I clarified that I wouldn't refer to Assisted Dying, but instead chose to use the term 'Assisted Suicide'. Because that's what it is - suicide. I defined Assisted Suicide as the taking of one's own life prematurely, involving the assistance of others. One or two faces staring at me looking surprised.

I stated the obvious: suffering and pain have been an inevitable part of the human experience since time immemorial. Why do we think in the West that now, we can 'play God', cheat the system and have a so-called 'good death'? It's one of the reasons why other cultures regard the West as over-indulged and deceitful; especially in the third-world, where suffering is a daily reality and yet where human life appears to be more valued than it is here.

I proclaimed that arguments favouring legalising Assisted Suicide dangerously value human rights over human life; a few faces frowned. Suicide hasn't been against the law in the UK for decades. There's nothing to stop any of us from committing the act. So why are there now demands for people to receive assistance in doing it? Why should suicide affectively be sanctified?

By now, a member of the audience was trying to speak over me. She was told to be silent, by the Chair. I 'sensed' another voice, telling me not to be afraid but to declare truth. I warned of what will happen if Assisted Suicide were legalised - I described a conversation I'd had with a Dutch GP in Chester, only a few days before. He shared how Assisted Dying and Euthanasia were both legalised in Holland in 2001. For the first few years, there were few reported abuses of the new law. But over time, the authorities began recording increasing numbers of senior citizens being persuaded to believe that they were a burden upon society and upon their families, and therefore agreeing to their own death - something which has swung public opinion, in the Netherlands, against Assisted Dying. Heads were shaking now, in Chester.

But why should medics be expected to participate in someone's suicide and compromise their own ethical, religious and professional beliefs? What about the Hippocratic Oath, which they have sworn? What about Powers of Attorney? Will the power over life and death, be extended to the controls they have over a person's finances and accommodation? There were one or two gasps from the crowd. When I highlighted how a large inheritance will have great influence over whether an elderly relative is allowed to live or die, the other speaker threw his pen in anger.

I lost the public debate among the thirty-or-so present, by one vote. But stepping into the bear-pit had again reminded me of the need for Christians to participate - if we don't speak out for truth, who will? CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.