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After assisted suicide bill fails, English bishops urge greater care for the dying

A measure that would have legalized assisted suicide in England and Wales failed in the British Parliament Friday by a vote of 330-118, much to the relief of both Catholic and Anglican leaders in the nation.

“I welcome Parliament’s recognition of the grave risks that this bill posed to the lives of our society’s most vulnerable people,” said Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark in a Sept. 11 statement on behalf of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

The measure would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to patients with six months or less to live. The lethal drugs would be self-administered, and each case would need approval by two physicians and a judge.

Proponents argued the measure reflected a shift in public opinion on end-of-life care.

“Social attitudes have changed,” the bill’s sponsor said, according to the BBC. “This bill would provide more protection for the living and more choice for the dying.”
Even the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey voiced his support for the measure in the weeks leading up to Friday’s debate, despite the Church of England’s otherwise unanimous opposition to the bill.

In contrast, the current Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described assisted suicide as “mistaken and dangerous.”

Opponents in the Parliament on Friday had similar sentiments.

“The right to die can so easily become the duty to die,” said one member, according to the BBC. “[The bill] changes the relationship between the doctor and their patients, it would not just legitimize suicide, but promote the participation of others in it.”

Another member defended England’s current ban on assisted suicide.

“We are here to protect the most vulnerable in our society, not to legislate to kill them,” she argued. “This bill is not merely flawed, it is legally and ethically totally incompatible.”

Catholic and Anglican leaders urged faithful to contact their MPs to oppose the bill ahead of Friday’s vote.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said he believes this grassroots opposition played a role in the measure’s defeat.

“I thank all Catholics in our parishes who took the time to write to or visit their Member of Parliament to express their concern about the Bill,” he said. “It was an important moment of witness to our Christian faith and the value it places on each and every human life.”

With the measure’s defeat, Archbishop Smith said he hopes lawmakers will turn their attention to expanding palliative care for terminal patients.

“There is much excellent practice in palliative care which we need to celebrate and promote, and I hope now the debate on assisted suicide is behind us, that this will become a focus for political action,” he said.


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