Lord George Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, has made the startling assertion that helping someone to end their own life is both “profoundly Christian” and an act of “love.”
Those comments came in a submission to members of Parliament as the United Kingdom reconsiders the issue of assisted suicide. Carey is currently a member of the House of Lords and served as the ceremonial head of the Church of England from 1991 to 2002.
“It is profoundly Christian to do all we can to ensure nobody suffers against their wishes,” he said, according to The Telegraph. “Some people believe they will find meaning in their own suffering in their final months and weeks of life. I respect that, but it cannot be justified to expect others to share that belief.”
He reportedly added that assisted suicide “is an act of great generosity, kindness and human love to help those when it is the will of the only person that matters – the sufferer himself.” Opposing assisted suicide with Bible verses like “thou shalt not kill” was “too broad” an approach, he reportedly argued.
The Suicide Act of 1961 currently criminalizes assisting another person’s suicide in England and Wales, punishing them with 14 years in prison. In December, Parliament announced it was launching a committee for reviewing evidence on the issue – including from places like Oregon and Canada, which have already liberalized the practice. Parliament’s re-examination is taking place through its Health and Social Care Committee, which is expected to release a report at the end of the year.
Assisted suicide is extremely controversial and has provoked concern that decriminalizing the practice would lead to greater pressure on the elderly to prematurely end their lives. According to The Guardian, palliative care physician and House of Lords member Ilora Finlay warned about this type of abuse and said the paperwork involved would stretch the time of National Health Service clinicians.
But Carey reportedly argued that evidence from other jurisdictions, like California and Australia, showed appropriate safeguards may be put in place. According to the Daily Mail, he said he changed his mind about assisted suicide after watching campaigners on the issue suffer. “The fact is that I have changed my mind,” he reportedly wrote in 2014. “The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.”
Assisted suicide has seen support in polling and from celebrities such as Prue Leith, a host of The Great British Bake Off, but it faces staunch opposition from faith leaders in the Anglican and Catholic churches. In January, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales submitted to the inquiry a document criticizing assisted suicide and the “fallacy of autonomy, compassion and ‘dignity in dying.’”
“Assisted suicide/euthanasia also has grave consequences for the fabric of society,” the bishops wrote. “The common good of the fabric of society is eroded when relationships are reduced to merely reductive or transactional approaches to the quality of life, dependency, and human relationships.” The document added that the practice was “an attack on the principle of the value of human life.”
It expressed concerns about a purported lack of psychiatric evaluation, loose criteria for assisted suicide, and a slippery slope that could lead to allowing children to engage in the practice.
A joint statement from the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland, and the Scottish Association of Mosques similarly expressed opposition to a recent bill that would legalize assisted suicide in Scotland.
“We grieve with those who grieve and identify with those who suffer,” it read. “We acknowledge the sincerely held motivation of those seeking change but do not believe that this is the correct approach to the alleviation of suffering. There is a very real danger that once legalized, these practices could put pressure on vulnerable individuals to opt for assisted suicide.”
The joint statement continued, “The ways in which similar laws in other countries are being applied, and the effect that its introduction would have on some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the disabled and the elderly, would be extremely detrimental. We are called to care for those who are suffering, not to end their lives.”