Once again a bill to allow assisted dying is being put before parliament. And once again the churches are using the full weight of their power and privilege to lobby; to bully MP’s into rejecting it. And because of this, and because religious representation in parliament is so out of proportion to the level of religiosity in the population as a whole, it seems likely that this bill, like all of its predecessors, will be voted down. The role of MP’s is to represent the people. Surveys have consistently shown that around eighty percent of the population are in favour of assisted dying, but most MP’s pay no heed, simply vote according to their own consciences (which tell them that their own religious beliefs, along with keeping the powerful religious lobby happy, are more important than doing what their constituents ask of them).
I would argue that popularity isn’t actually relevant in this issue, because the granting or withholding of a right should be determined not by its popularity, but by its reasonableness. To illustrate this point I would ask you to consider whether if eighty percent of the population thought that we shouldn’t read books, it would be reasonable to burn all the books and make reading a crime. People can choose whether they want to read or not; those that don’t want to don’t have to, those that do can, and cause no harm to anyone by doing so. It’s the same with assisted dying, which is essentially the right to self-determination. It might be that very few people ever want to make use of this right, but it should still be there for those who want it. Religious representatives have the right to tell us if the tenets of their religion hold that to take a life is wrong, regardless of the situation (although this is down to individual interpretation of ancient texts). But when they try to enshrine their religious ideas into secular law, they must be stopped.
Self-determination, an essential part of which is the right to choose not to live, is as important a right as the right to life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should do nothing to stop someone from trying to kill themselves, particularly if it’s just because they’re having a bad day. We have a responsibility to help our fellow human beings in times of trouble. For instance suicide (which we should remember is thankfully no longer classed as a crime) is often driven by depression, which is almost always a transient state. Where someone is feeling suicidal due to depression we have a moral obligation to do what we can to show them that the condition will pass, that they have the potential to live a full and happy life. But ultimately, if we fail, can we deny them the right to self-determination?
The idea of assisted dying is to give someone who is in dire circumstances, and who is incapable of ending their life by themselves, the right to have someone else do it for them. All of the bills that have been presented have ensured that there would be proper safeguards in place. The church would have us believe such legislation could be used by unscrupulous people to rid themselves of disabled or elderly relatives who are a burden to them. This is an under-hand tactic and is clearly nonsense. The legislation – the human right – is for those whose quality of life is so deteriorated as to make life not worth living. It’s for people who may be suffering terrible pain, whose condition may be terminal, irreversible; who in all probability will only deteriorate further, suffer ever worse pain, become ever more debilitated, ever more humiliated by their condition. How can we reasonably withhold from these people the right to end their suffering; the right to self-determination? This is not ‘Christian’, it’s inhuman.