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Swiss organisation helps 540 British people to kill themselves

The assisted dying organisation Dignitas, based in Switzerland, told MPs earlier this week that it has helped 540 British people kill themselves. It’s deeply upsetting to hear of these lives lost prematurely. It gives a clear example of the shift happening in culture towards giving people autonomy in law and approval in culture to end the lives of anyone who decides it is the right time.

Silvan Luley, a team member at Dignitas, and Bernhard Sutter, the director of Exit, both providers of assisted suicide services, were giving evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care committee earlier this week as part of an investigation into assisted dying.

Dignitas states that it has helped 540 British people kill themselves over the past 20 years, at a cost of around £10,000 for each death. They are given a drug to render them unconscious in about three or four minutes, and then the patient dies around thirty minutes later.

Vulnerable people are being put under pressure

According to the Suicide Act 1961, it is a criminal offence to encourage or assist in the suicide of a person. Dignitas and Exit and other campaigners would like to change the law. According to Luly this would be ‘so that people will feel safe, doctors will feel safe, and then things will improve considerably’.

I would suggest quite the opposite. It is woefully naïve to believe that this will not in practice lead to vulnerable people being put under pressure, real or imagined, to end their lives prematurely. It fundamentally changes the doctor-patient relationship of trust.

Even worse than that, many campaigners would like to extend the law to anyone who is competent to make such a decision. This would extend beyond the terminally ill to the lonely, the mentally ill, and those living with disabilities and chronic health conditions who might feel obliged to end their lives to take control and ease the burden on others. If a law for the terminally ill is passed, it will quickly move on to those with long-term illnesses and then towards anyone who wants to end their life for any reason – this is the experience of every other jurisdiction that has changed the law.

Constantly needing to prove our worth to stay alive

All humans are made in the image of God, so we accept the intrinsic dignity of all people at every part of their lives from conception to death. As Christians, we want to care for people in a way that minimises suffering whilst they are alive, but we do not have the right to actively end someone’s life by medical intervention. Apart from being morally wrong to take this responsibility on ourselves it is a frightening situation where we are constantly needing to prove to ourselves and the people around us that we are worthy to stay alive a bit longer.

Furthermore, it is also wrong to think the avoidance of suffering against our will is a Christian goal. Sometimes God does take us through paths of suffering for his own good purposes, even though it is not what we would choose for ourselves.

We should continue to vigorously oppose any changes to the suicide law whilst we also seek to support vulnerable people through their suffering and tell everyone the promise of eternal life and the consolation Christians have in the present, which makes life worth living.

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