By John Martin
The House of Commons has resoundingly rejected state-approved assisted suicide by a three-to-one vote (330 to 118). Faith groups led the public argument against a “yes” campaign that had vastly more funding, almost daily celebrity pronouncements, and maximum publicity from deaths at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland.
The “no” campaign had the support of Prime Minister David Cameron, apparently confident enough about the result that he skipped the debate and watched a cricket match between Australia and England 200 miles away in Leeds.
Doctors played a considerable role in the lead-up debate. Members of the Christian Medical Fellowship and Guild of Catholic Doctors were successful in ensuring that the British Medical Association, the representative body of doctors, resisted pressure to “go neutral” on the issue.
During the debate doctor MPs made telling interventions. A Scottish MP, surgeon Philippa Whitford, urged MPs to help people “live every day of their lives until the end.” She spoke of her experience of treating cancer patients. She wants to allow terminally ill people a “beautiful death” rather than hastening their death. Liam Fox, a former defense secretary, said a change in the law would force doctors and nurses into an ethical trap.
The Church of England opposed the bill, arguing that a change in the law would create pressure on elderly and feeble people. The Archbishop of Canterbury said the issue was one of the “biggest dilemmas of our time” but that a “slippery slope” would likely lead to further difficulties.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Primate of Wales, opposed the bill, as did Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain; Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi; and Sikh leader Lord Singh of Wimbledon.
“We are heartened that MPs have decided not to change the law on assisted suicide,” said the Rt. Rev. James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and lead bishop for the Church of England on health-care issues.
“We believe that the proposals contained in the Assisted Dying Bill would have exposed already vulnerable people to increased risk,” Bishop Newcome added. “The vote in the House of Commons sends a strong signal that the right approach towards supporting the terminally ill is to offer compassion and support through better palliative care. We believe that all of us need to redouble our efforts on that front.”
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