Friday, 25 September 2009

The law on assisted suicide

Some mostly encouraging words from the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt. Revd. Michael Langrish, in his statement on behalf of the Church of England responding to the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Interim Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Assisted Suicide.

The bishop said: "The Church of England has consistently argued – and Parliament has consistently voted – against any change in the law governing assisted suicide, even when this is motivated by compassion. Guidance from the DPP about the application of the present law to particular circumstances has the potential to provide greater clarity and is in principle to be welcomed, so long as there can be confidence that it will not in practice lead to an erosion of respect for the
present law. There are serious moral, ethical and practical issues to consider – for example in relation to concepts such as ‘encouragement’ and the nature of ‘informed decision making’. The Church of England is therefore reserving its position on the
detail of the draft guidance at this stage. Its formal submission will be made public in due course."

These are, in the main, very welcome words indeed, although I hope I am not being too pessimistic in detecting a degree of “wriggle room,” at least in the reasoning behind the statement: what if, for example, Parliament were to vote overwhelmingly for a change in the law, something which cannot be ruled out in today’s cultural climate? Unfortunately that is precisely where Anglicanism’s knee-jerk default response of Erastianism may come to the fore and betray us. The current leadership of the Church seems, at the moment, quite resolute on this issue, and one hopes that clear and principled theological opposition to assisted suicide will be a consistent line which will be maintained by the Church of England and not, as in other areas, breached within a few short years in order not to be too far out of step with parliamentary and public opinion. Time will tell.

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