Following interventions by a few high profile Christians, some people are suggesting that the Church of England’s position on the ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ lacks clarity. For once, nothing could be further from the truth. In February 2012 the current law was debated by General Synod, a representative body made up of bishops, clergy and lay people. No member of Synod voted against a resolution to support the law as it stands. It is relatively unusual to find an issue which attracts such an overwhelming consensus of opinion. This is one such issue, and the reasons for that massive level of agreement were well rehearsed.
Foremost among them is the view – shared by many people of other faiths and none – that every person’s life has an intrinsic value regardless of circumstance. Whatever they themselves or other people may think of their ‘value’ to society, and despite any apparent lack of productivity or usefulness, nothing can alter their essential significance as human beings. To agree that some of us are more valuable than others when it comes to being alive would be to cross an ethical Rubicon. Until now, our society has regarded this as self-evident. That is why we have ‘suicide watch’ in prisons; and why we try to stop people killing themselves by jumping off bridges or cliffs or high buildings. It is why doctors undertake to give only ‘beneficial’ treatment to their patients, and why we attach so much importance to human rights legislation.
Then there is our fundamental responsibility as a ‘civilised’ society to care for and protect the most vulnerable among us.