Archbishop Peter Smith on Coroners and Justice Bill; assisted suicide

 The Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff, has written to The Times newspaper to highlight his concern that The Coroners and Justice Bill could be hijacked to "allow assistance of [suicide] in the case of people who go abroad to kill themselves".

Full text of letter:

Sir, The Coroners and Justice Bill aims to bring within the law predatory internet websites that promote or encourage suicide. And yet we are now seeing certain MPs attempting to hijack these sensible proposals so that, at the same time as they outlaw encouragement of suicide, they also want to allow assistance of it in the case of people who go abroad to kill themselves (report, Mar 20). But isn't making assisted suicide easier itself tantamount to encouraging the act?

The proponents argue that there is a difference between malicious encouragement of suicide and assistance with it in compassionate circumstances - villains who egg others on to suicide and philanthropists who help to relieve suffering. The real world just isn't like that. Most people don't fall into these extreme categories. It's the majority of ordinary people in between that we need to consider when we talk about changing the law - the seriously ill or incapacitated elderly parent who feels guilty at the burden of care he or she is putting on a family hard-pressed by the recession, or the sick relative with money to leave behind who could be subtly encouraged to leave this world earlier than planned. People like this have already heard suggestions from one eminent advocate of legalised euthanasia that sufferers from dementia are wasting NHS resources and the lives of others, and should consider whether they have a duty to die.

As things stand, they have the law's protection: assisting suicide is illegal. But, if it is made legal in certain situations, that would open a door not just for the self-possessed and self-confident minority who are sure they want it, but for many more who might persuade themselves, or be subtly persuaded by others, that that is the best course for them - and for those around them.

+Peter Smith
Archbishop of Cardiff

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