All life should have dignity

Assisted Dying Bill ANL-140721-100653001
Assisted Dying Bill ANL-140721-100653001
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by MP John Hayes

My mission in politics is to be fierce in defence of the gentle; to stand up for vulnerable people who are either unable or ill equipped to fight for themselves.

For this reason I object strongly to legalising euthanasia, as proposed by the Assisted Dying Bill which is currently being considered by the House of Lords. By equating assisted suicide with human dignity the Bill’s supporters are in essence arguing that it is undignified to go on living beyond a point that others consider appropriate.

The misguided advocates of this ungodly Bill justify it on the basis that a person can be merely ‘technically alive’, and even a prominent female vicar in the Church of England has referred to a ‘half-life’ – but there is no such thing; humans are either alive or dead. Accepting such brutalist assumptions diminishes the meaning of life for us all by undermining the dignity of the least fortunate.

A mark of a civilised and compassionate society is the consistent dignification of its citizens including elderly, infirm and disabled people. As religious leaders from across various churches and faiths have affirmed, in a statement this week, every human life is intrinsically valued and ought to be cherished. The Assisted Dying Bill undermines this principle because its provisions would allow a judgement to be made about whose life has value and whose does not.

Once such judgements begin it may not take long for those suffering from terminal or chronic conditions to be persuaded that their continued life is undignified. In Washington State, USA, where assisted suicide is legal, an official survey has revealed that 61 per cent of those who received lethal drugs in 2013 reported ‘feeling a burden on family, friends and care-givers’.

Vulnerable people, dependent on others as a result of their condition, often feel a heavy burden of responsibility for the pressure their needs place on those around them, particularly people they love. The evidence from elsewhere suggests that many people in this position feel a pressure, even a duty, to end their lives.

Because I believe that every innocent life is precious I will do all I can to oppose the Assisted Dying Bill. This past week the Prime Minister helpfully drew attention to the fault line that characterises the proposed change in the law when he said: “I worry about legalising euthanasia because people might be pushed into things that they do not actually want for themselves.”

It was the poet Dylan Thomas who advised those facing death not to ‘go gentle into that good night’ but to ‘fight against the dying of the light’.

Those gentle souls who may feel pressure to surrender to death warrant our most passionate concern – I am their fierce champion.