Assisted Suicide

Cross Rhythms website editor Heather Bellamy is a regular contributor for the local Sentinel newspaper's weekly faith column, Yours Faithfully. Each week a different leader from the local faith communities write the column. Check out what Heather has been saying to the fine people of North Staffordshire.

Last month the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, published guidelines to clarify the rules on assisted suicide.

Mr Starmer explained that the main shift is the new emphasis on the 'suspect's motivation' over the 'characteristics of the victim'; and just last week the son of the conductor Sir Edward Downes avoided charges of assisting the suicide of his parents, the first under these new guidelines.

Although evidence showed he was a direct beneficiary in the will and that he booked hotel rooms, and that his parents were not terminally ill but simply 'in poor health', Mr Starmer said that Mr Caractacus Downes was "wholly motivated by compassion" and discounted the fact that Mr Downes stood to gain from his parents' death.

What concerns me is the direction this is taking us involves a loss of the sanctity of life. We are saying it is ok to help kill someone if it's deemed 'compassionate'. This is a dangerous door to open. After all compassion is a motivation in the heart and is therefore hidden and possible to feign.

We are seeing a removal of protection for the most vulnerable, and like the proverbial frog in cold water heated over time, we don't realise where these paths will take us.

Perhaps there will be renewed pressure to legalise assisted suicide; then, as we face future cuts in public spending and enormous national debt we may end up seeing cases like that in Oregon where a lady with cancer who was seeking chemotherapy got a letter from the Oregon health department telling her they couldn't pay for her chemotherapy but they would pay for her assisted suicide!

My mother-in-law loves life with a passion. She gives and gives to others and grabs each day with zeal. She also has breast cancer in her bones, ovarian cancer in her lymph glands, auto-immune hepatitis and an enlarged spleen. Her body has been beaten up through various treatments over 20 odd years, but she still has so much to contribute to our lives and many others around her. As a daughter-in-law it worries me that as guidelines get relaxed and public opinion changes, my Mother-in-law's life and those like her will be seen as a drain on society and through subtle or not so subtle means, a pressure will get put on someone who already has enough pressure.

My mother-in-law has already asked me the question: "Do you think people would think I should end my life early?"

When the first baby was born in January this year, having had the breast cancer gene screened out through the selection process, Josephine Quintavalle of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said, "the message is that you are better off dead, than being born with this gene. I hope 20 years down the line we will have eradicated breast cancer - not eradicated the carriers!" I echo her sentiments for both the beginning and the end of life.

For most of us as we near death we will suffer pain and struggle, but I believe our laws and how we implement them should be with the emphasis on the value of the gift that life is and the protection of that life at its most vulnerable moment. Our focus should not be on eradicating the carriers of disease, but on finding cures and better palliative care.

As Moses once said, "this day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." 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.