A Good Death: Thoughts on Assisted Dying

‘The Commission on Assisted Dying’ has published its report about euthanasia. The commission was set up by ‘Dignity in Dying’ and has called for a change in the law. Opponents of the report have described it as ‘biased’.

I have not yet had chance to read the report in full, but – biased or not – it is a serious piece of work and deserves to be widely discussed. It is a shame that some organisations – such as the British Medical Association – felt unable to take part.

The arguments were presented very well at an excellent sixth-form conference organised by Gloucester Cathedral Education Centre a couple of years ago. The speakers included Baroness Mary Warnock, who is well-known for wanting to change the law, and Dr Alison Grove, a specialist in Palliative Medicine, who opposes change. At the end of the conference, I still wasn’t sure what to think, but I – and, I hope, the 150 students – understood both sides of the argument more clearly.

Most ethical dilemmas facing us as humans don’t have a clear ‘black and white’ answer. This is one of those. And I suspect that I will be unable to come to a clear conclusion on it until I am faced with it on a personal level – for myself or for someone I love.

In my dictionary the original meaning of ‘euthanasia’ is ‘a gentle and easy death’. I am all in favour of that. The meaning has changed in recent years to ‘bringing about a gentle and easy death’. Palliative medicine works to relieve pain and other symptoms so that a terminally-ill person can have a ‘good death’. But sadly it doesn’t work for everyone. So perhaps, as the report suggests, assisted suicide should be legally available in carefully controlled circumstances.

But if I was faced with making such a decision, I wouldn’t want to do it on my own. I would want to talk with family and trusted friends, praying that we might be given the wisdom to get it right.

Giles Fraser, former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, in his ‘’Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4 shortly after publication of the report, said that he takes a fairly conservative position on the issue. But he suggested that ‘this is one of those subjects, like abortion, where it’s terribly easy for people to stop listening to each other. And it’s when the listening stops that the ‘culture wars’ begin.’

He went on to say: ‘The truth is, a great many atheists oppose assisted dying just as a great many religious people support it. It’s not that I think the God bit irrelevant to the whole issue – but rather that there’s something profoundly distasteful about using assisted dying as another front in an increasingly fractious and unhelpful boo-hurrah debate about faith.’

I hope that we can all do what those students did at Gloucester Cathedral. Listen with open minds to the arguments and only then – if we are able – come to a conclusion.

The full text of Giles Fraser’s ‘Thought for the Day’ is available at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00n3ktd

(If you have found this blog interesting or helpful, please pass on the link to others.)

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