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Assisted Dying - Joint Faith Leaders Letter to The Times

Friday 12th May 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders signed a letter to The Times raising their concerns at proposed legislation to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, together with the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Dr Jonathan Sacks, signed a letter to The Times [Friday 12th May 2006] raising their concerns at proposed legislation to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill in the United Kingdom.

The text of the letter:


Today the House of Lords will debate the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. We are opposed to this Bill and to any measure that seeks to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia. We believe that all human life is sacred and God-given with a value that is inherent, not conditional. We urge legislators to withhold support for this Bill so as to ensure that British law continues to safeguard the principle that the intention to kill, or assist in the killing, of an innocent human being is wrong .

Compassion for the terminally ill is incumbent on all of us, but in that respect we believe that the Bill is misguided. Such a Bill cannot guarantee that a right to die would not, for society's most vulnerable, become a duty to die. Were such a law enacted, the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed would find themselves under pressure, real or imagined, to ask for an early death. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that economic pressures might not come to play a significant part in determining whether to treat or recommend assisted death.

Decisions about assisted suicide have acute implications for others - relatives, friends, colleagues, medical professionals and the wider community. As such, any change in the law would irrevocably change the delicate relationship of trust between patient and doctor and between citizen and society.

We particularly acknowledge the opposition to a change in the law from disability groups and from the majority in the medical profession, especially those committed to providing palliative care. In helping the terminally ill to face their fears, and by relieving their pain and suffering, palliative care workers are integral to securing the dignity of those nearing death. We believe, therefore, that properly funded and universally accessible palliative care services are essential for meeting the needs - material, emotional and spiritual - of those with terminal illnesses, and we urge the government to recognise the need for greater funding for palliative care.

The Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster

Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

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