Key resources for the debate over assisted dying
The Methodist Conference adopted in 1974 a Statement on Euthanasia which took a firm line against assisted dying. This remains the Methodist Church’s position. The concluding paragraph states: “It is not merely that the artificial precipitation of death is likely to remain abhorrent to many people, not least to very large numbers of Christians. The approach to the death event which has been indicated in this statement makes euthanasia, in the sense intended by its proponents, both inappropriate and irrelevant”.
Much has changed in our society since 1974 and attention is drawn to the following:
- Use of language has changed: the term ‘euthanasia’ is used in the 1974 statement but, as already noted, has now largely been replaced in this context by other terms;
- Palliative medicine, and the hospice movement, have emerged and developed to an extent completely unforeseen in 1974.
Opinions may vary on the extent to which these developments impact on the debate.
Suggested resources for those wishing to explore the debate on assisted dying:
- Arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’ assisted dying are set out in various places: see NHS Choices for a simple introduction to the legal position and more on the concept of euthanasia. Another starter with brief views on both sides is provided by Benenden Health in its 2013 research into public views on assisted dying.
- Firmly in the ‘pro’ camp, the organisation Dignity in Dying campaigns directly for a change to the law and is probably the leading organisation promoting the cause of assisted dying in the UK. Revd Professor Paul Badham sets out a ‘Christian case for assisted dying’ on their site here and has published a number of books on this and related topics.
- Living and Dying Well “explores the complexities surrounding the debate on 'assisted dying' and other end of life issues”. While it emphasises the need for evidence and rigorous analysis, its position is broadly against allowing physician-assisted suicide. A stronger ‘anti’ position is taken by Care Not Killing and by Not Dead Yet UK , ‘UK disability activists opposed to assisted suicide’. Their US-affiliate’s website is a good source of further reading.
- Statements from other Churches include a paper by the Church of England against any change to the law and a URC report of 2007 with similar conclusions. From a Pentecostal / Evangelical standpoint, Christian Action Research and Education (care.org.uk) sets out the biblical arguments in some detail. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have produced a resource in the form of Q&A, entitled Sense and Nonsense on Assisted Dying.
Those wanting to go further may find these useful:
Commission on Assisted Dying: a heavyweight investigation set up in 2010, it produced a very substantial report, published by Demos.
Journal of Medical Ethics: an in-depth report into the role of the medical profession in assisted dying in six European countries. Contains links to other research papers.
The British Medical Association has consistently taken a position against the legalisation of physician-assisted suicide. Their 2009 report on End of Life Decisions sets this out very clearly. The Royal College of GPs conducted research in 2014 which has a similar conclusion. Another detailed Guide to the Evidence comes from the Roman Catholic Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford.