After my musings earlier on this week about end of life care, I was interested in this morning's news of a report recommending that patients with terminal illness with less than a year to live be given help to end their own lives. Telegraph article
The Independent Commission on Assisted Dying produced the report and Lord Falconer chaired it, giving it some legal weight. But the Bishop of Carlisle has issued a statement criticising the report and the composition on the Commission which it argues was selected to produce this result. The Bishop does not think that the safeguards suggested in the report would be sufficient to protect the most vulnerable, and advocates no change in the present law.
There are so many complex pastoral issues involved here that it's impossible to set up a framework that will work in every case. I understand why people would want to end their own lives, and why families would not want to see loved ones suffer unnecessarily. But in practical terms, how can any doctor know how much time anyone has left? The furore over Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing springs to mind. Released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to terminal prostate cancer, when doctors apparently believed he only had weeks to live, he was found in August 2011 in Tripoli barely alive, but alive nonetheless. Predicting death can be an imprecise business, given the human body's apparently enduring preference for life.
This debate is unlikely to be settled soon, so I will continue to minister to the dying and their families to the best of my ability. No doubt there will be times when I, with them, would wish for God to bring a swift and peaceful end, but I think I'm more comfortable living with that than with a complex (and therefore vulnerable to human error) system of assisted suicide.