UK & World News

  • 12 July 2014, 19:57

Archbishops Split Over Right-To-Die Debate

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has made an extraordinary U-turn by announcing he is backing laws to legalise assisted dying.

His support for Labour peer Lord Falconer's Bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords next week, goes against the Church of England's official line that the law on assisted suicide should not change.

Lord Carey said it would not be "anti-Christian" to legalise assisted suicide and that by opposing reform the Church risked "promoting anguish and pain".

He said the case of Tony Nicklinson - the locked-in syndrome sufferer who died after being refused the legal right to die - had the "deepest influence" on his change of heart.

"Here was a dignified man making a simple appeal for mercy, begging that the law allow him to die in peace, supported by his family," he wrote in the Daily Mail.

"His distress made me question my motives in previous debates. Had I been putting doctrine before compassion, dogma before human dignity?"

Mr Nicklinson's widow Jane said she was "amazed and thrilled" at Lord Carey's U-turn.

His comments come as a surprise because he was part of a coalition that helped stop Lord Joffe's Assisting Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in 2006 in the House of Lords.

But while the former Archbishop has come out in favour of a change in the law, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, has condemned the Bill as "mistaken and dangerous".

Writing in the Times, Archbishop Welby warned the "deep personal demands" of individuals should not blind people to the pressures others could be put under should the practice become legal.

"It would be very naive to think that many of the elderly people who are abused and neglected each year, as well as many severely disabled individuals, would not be put under pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide were permitted by law," he wrote.

Archbishop Welby said a law that permitted assisted suicide would be "bound" to lead to some people feeling they ought to stop "being a burden to others".

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said the Church of England was "surprised" by the content and timing of Lord Carey's shock intervention.

"I think we were surprised by both the content and the timing of the article but recognise that, actually, quite a lot of good things have come out of it,including that it has brought some of the issues to the forefront of public discussion and highlighted just what an important issue this is," Bishop Newcome said.

"Certainly our hope ... is that the Falconer Bill will be withdrawn and that, because this is such an important issue, it can be discussed at length by a Royal Commission."

Under the 1961 Suicide Act, it remains a criminal offence carrying up to 14 years in jail to help take someone's life.

If successful, Lord Falconer's Bill would allow mentally capable adults in England and Wales to ask for help to die if they were suffering from a terminal illness and had less than six months to live.

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