In a letter sent to the Members of the House of Lords today, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has joined the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, and 20 other faith leaders in voicing concern over Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.
The full text of the letter follows:
As leaders of faith communities, we wish to state our joint response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. We do so out of deep human concern that if enacted, this bill would have a serious detrimental effect on the wellbeing of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.
Every human life is of intrinsic value and ought to be affirmed and cherished. This is central to our laws and our social relationships; to undermine this in any way would be a grave error. The Assisted Dying Bill would allow individuals to participate actively in ending others’ lives, in effect colluding in the judgment that they are of no further value. This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society.
Vulnerable individuals must be cared for and protected even if this calls for sacrifice on the part of others. Each year many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people suffer abuse; sadly, often at the hands of their families or carers. Being perceived as a burden or as a financial drain is a terrible affliction to bear, leading in many cases to passivity, depression and self-loathing. The desire to end one’s life may, at any stage of life, be prompted by depression or external pressure; any suggestion of a presumption that such a decision is ‘rational’ does not do justice to the facts. The Assisted Dying Bill can only add to the pressures that many vulnerable, terminally ill people will feel, placing them at increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.
A key consideration is whether the Assisted Dying Bill will place more vulnerable people at risk than it seeks to help. We have seen, in recent years that even rigorous regulation and careful monitoring have not prevented the most serious lapses of trust and care in some parts of the NHS and within a number of Care Homes. It is naïve to believe that, if assisted suicide were to be legalised, proposed safeguards would not similarly be breached with the most disastrous of consequences, by their nature irrevocable.
The bill raises the issue of what sort of society we wish to become: one in which life is to be understood primarily in terms of its usefulness and individuals evaluated in terms of their utility or one in which every person is supported, protected and cherished even if, at times, they fail to cherish themselves. While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all. Better access to high-quality palliative care, greater support for carers and enhanced end of life services will be among the hallmarks of a truly compassionate society and it is to those ends that our energies ought to be harnessed.
Signatories:Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha
Mr Yousif Al-Khoei, Director Al-Khoei Foundation
Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church and Secretary of the Conference
Bishop Eric Brown, Administrative Bishop, New Testament Church of God
Mr Malcolm M Deboo, President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
Rev Jonathan Edwards, Deputy Moderator Free Churches Group
Pastor John Glass, General Superintendent, Elim Pentecostal Churches
Revd David Grosch-Miller and Mr John Ellis, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
Colonel David Hinton, Chief Secretary, The Salvation Army United Kingdom
Rev Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Ayatollah Fazel Milani, Dean of the International Colleges of Islamic Studies
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales
His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster
Rev John Partington, National Leader, Assemblies of God
Mr Ramesh Pattni, Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
Bishop Wilton Powell, National Overseer, Church of God of Prophecy
Maulana Shahid Raza OBE, Leicester Central Mosque, Leicester
Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain, London Buddhist Vihara
Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain
Dr Natubhai Shah, Chairman/CEO Jain Network
Lord Indarjit Singh, Director Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)
Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury