Our next battlefront
The House of Commons did not simply reject the Assisted Dying Bill last Friday; it also demolished the assisted suicide lobby’s central narrative. The Bill’s supporters had presented a change in the law as inevitable. In 21st-century Britain, they argued, no one could reasonably object to the “right to die” – anyone who did so was “on the wrong side of history”. They could point to Belgium, the Netherlands and other advanced industrialised countries in support of their argument.
But this narrative of historical inevitability fell apart on Friday when MPs voted 330 to 118 against the Bill. No, lawmakers declared, Britain is not obliged to follow a pre-ordained secularist path.
This was, by one count, the 11th effort in 12 years to legalise assisted suicide through the British Parliament. The Bill’s sponsor, Labour MP Rob Marris, conceded that no more attempts could be made in this Parliament. One doctor opposed to the Bill argued that the vote “should settle this matter for a decade”.
It’s true that MPs’ views have barely shifted since the House of Commons debated a Bill of this kind almost 20
years ago. Some 72 per cent of MPs opposed a change in the law in 1997, compared to 74 per cent today. This is despite an unrelenting campaign to soften opinion on the issue by wellfunded assisted suicide lobbyists.
But while there is much cause for joy, there is none for complacency. We cannot be satisfied with the way we presently treat the dying. Many fear they won’t receive the care they need in their final days on earth. That is one of the reasons why the “assisted dying”
We cannot be satisfied with the way we presently treat the dying in Britain lobby built up such momentum. Until we address this problem, assisted suicide – with its illusion of perfect control – will continue to appeal to anxious Britons.
Speaking after the defeat of his Bill, Rob Marris urged the Government to invest in palliative care. Archbishop Peter Smith, who successfully mobilised Catholics against the Bill, echoed this, saying that palliative care should now “become a focus for political action”.
We should build on this early hint of a consensus. It’s easier to get fired up about defeating a Bill than it is to join the gruelling struggle to improve end-oflife care in our hospitals. But this is precisely what we must do now.
Yet we cannot ignore the grave problem that lies before us. As Professor Patrick Pullicino explained in our last issue, new draft guidelines on care of the dying in Britain contain potentially lethal flaws. The guidelines, drawn up by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice), replace the discredited Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). But according to Prof Pullicino, they are even worse. The Catholic Medical Association UK agrees. The body, which has almost 500 members, has urged Nice to redraft the guidelines, which are based on the unsound belief that doctors can predict when patients are likely to die.
Our immediate goal should be to campaign for new guidelines that do not repeat the errors of the LCP. At the same time, we ought to build as broad a network as possible to press for better palliative care. Above all, we must not stand still after this surprisingly emphatic victory. Supporters of assisted suicide certainly won’t.
A very un-British proposal
Despite their keen interest in the concept of “British values”, the Conservatives do come out with some very un-British ideas. The latest, according to The Sunday Telegraph, is a proposal by the Home Office to force priests, imams and rabbis to have to enrol on a “national register of faith leaders” and go through security checks and government-specified training.
Such a level of state intrusion is in line with the strict French policy of laïcité but totally alien to the British tradition of religious freedom.
No one in government needs to tell us the true reason for the move. It has nothing to done with Christianity. It is clearly a response to the rise of Islamic extremism and, in particular, Saudi-funded Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical branch of the religion that the desert kingdom spreads around the world, inspiring groups like the Taliban and ISIS. With hundreds of British nationals currently embarking on jihad, state intrusion may just be the inevitable price we pay for security. Yet many Christians will ask why they need to be effectively punished for something that has nothing to do with them – and, indeed, of which their co-religionists in the Middle East are the greatest victims.
As with the shake-up of the Charity Commission, which increased scrutiny of Christian charities that had traditionally been lightly regulated, or the campaign against “divisive” faith schools, this looks like an attempt to use Islamic extremism as an opportunity to promote a radical secular agenda. Likewise, hate speech laws have more often than not been used against practising Christians.
If these draft guidelines are adopted there would potentially be nothing to stop Home Office officials from interrogating clergy about such “extremist” views as opposition to same-sex marriage. This absurd proposal should be thrown out.
CATHOLIC HERALD, SEPTEMBER 18 2015 3