We discussed euthanasia in 2009. I had a blog article talking about various forms of voluntary dying. I also referred to the proposal of an euthanasia court for saving lives in addition to determining the genuine euthanasia cases. This is a complex and controversial subject which we often heard people said let us not discuss it. But the reality is that euthanasia is being practiced in many countries. Britain in particular is under immense pressure to have this resolved. In 2010, the Commission on Assisted Dying was set up for conducting an in-depth inquiry on this subject.
The Commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a barrister and former justice secretary, and included members with expertise in law, medicine, social care, mental health, palliative care, theology, disability and policing. The Commission engaged in a wide-ranging inquiry into the subject, including a public call for evidence which received over 1,200 responses, public evidence hearings, international research visits, and original and commissioned research on the issues surrounding assisted dying.
The report of the Commission was published this month. You may wish to see the BBC news article on this. It concludes that the current legal status of assisted suicide is inadequate and incoherent. The current legal regime can be distressing for the people affected and their families, health and social care staff, and also on police and prosecutors. A proposed legal framework for assisted dying is laid out in detail in the report, including strict criteria to define who might be eligible to receive assistance and robust safeguards to prevent abuse of any new law. The Commission also considers that substantial improvements to health and social care services would be needed in parallel with changes to the law. It proposes that the role of any future assisted dying legislation must be to provide all people with access to high quality end of life care and protect potentially vulnerable people from any form of social pressure to end their lives, at the same time as providing people with greater choice and control regarding how and when they die. If you are interested in the details, please read the full report.
It would be interesting to know what was the views of the religion sector towards this issue. Among the 11 commissioners, only Reverend Canon Dr James Woodward disagreed with the conclusion. The report duly carries an appendix on his statement on the inquiry. In particular, he said “This complex and contested area of human life cannot be dealt with through the law or medicine alone. We need to engage further with the social and ethical reflections on experiences of death and dying.” Despite almost two years’ inquiry and 1,200 responses, hearings and researches, he was still undecided and wanted never-ending reflections. A better reflection of his intention continued: “There are important theological questions about suffering, personhood and the value of the vulnerable that need to inform a more open conversation about death and dying in Britain today.”
Suffering is actually the central point in the whole issue. Euthanasia is for the relief of unnecessary suffering, but there is another meaning of suffering in the theological sense. Suffering may be good in the sense of sacrifice and repent. Thus there is no need to end the suffering prematurely. But there is another religious notion that dying is the passage into eternal life. For a good person, he will pass into heaven. The encouragement of endurance to unnecessary suffering and the delay to the passage seems to contradict this notion. Perhaps everybody has to first go to the purgatory before going to heaven. Suffering before dying may somehow offset the purgatory fire a little bit.