Bishop of Shrewsbury warns that assisted dying bill would be “law of despair”
A controversial bill that seeks to legalise assisted dying represents the “first step” towards euthanasia, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury has warned.
The Rt Rev Mark Davies said MPs would be introducing a “law of despair” if they voted in favour of proposals to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to anyone with only six months to live who showed a “clear and settled intention” to end their life.
He warned that the right to die would quickly become a “duty to die” and that those who should be receiving the utmost care would instead consider themselves an unwanted burden on society.
The bill, introduced by Labour MP Rob Marris, will be granted its second reading on September 11, when a vote will be held. It is the first serious attempt to change the law on assisted suicide.
MPs have not voted on the issue since 1997, when a proposal to allow doctors to help the terminally ill commit suicide was voted down by 234 votes to 89.
But recent polling has consistently suggested high levels of public support for a change in the law to allow assisted dying.
Bishop Davies, speaking to around 800 pilgrims from the Shrewsbury Diocesan in Lourdes, warned that some of the most vulnerable in society would come under huge pressure to end their lives if assisted dying became “the mindset of British society”.
He said: “The proposed law for ‘Assisted Dying’ will remove legal protections for the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our land.
“It is the first step on the road to euthanasia: the medical killing of some of the weakest members of society.”
He urged pilgrims to make their voices heard, warning that there were just a few weeks before MPs chose between whether “a culture of care or a culture of suicide and eventually of killing”.
“We have good reason to fear that the right to die will quickly become the duty to die,” he added.
“And those who should be most cherished and cared for will increasingly see themselves as an unwanted burden to society.
Pope Francis frequently reminds us how it is the weakest and most vulnerable who can teach us the most important lessons of life. And he warns us that many societies are in danger of discarding them.”
The bill is almost identical to that introduced into the House of Lords by the assisted suicide campaigner Lord Falconer last year.
The former Lord Chancellor took the bill through its initial legislative stages but ran out of parliamentary time ahead of the General Election.
It provoked a highly charged, ten-hour debate and peers unanimously backed amendments giving a High Court judge a role in any system of assisted suicide, an extra safeguard against pressure on vulnerable people.
The bill to be put before the Commons will include those amendments, a move likely to strengthen potential support.
The bishop’s views echo concerns raised by David Cameron that the proposed change in the law would leave vulnerable people feeling “unfairly pressurised” into ending their lives.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “He has concern that legislation in this area might push people towards doing things that they don’t actually want for themselves.”
But he added: “It is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide, rather than one for Government policy.”
Mr Marris, the MP for Wolverhampton South West, said that people who were suffering and facing imminent death should not be denied medical help to end their lives.
“Alongside the vast majority of the public, I am in favour of terminally ill people who are of sound mind having choice at the end of life,” he said.
The MP chose to put forward proposals on assisted dying after coming top of this year’s ballot for backbench legislation.