Have the body-snatchers taken Lord Carey? This is what I ask myself as I read his support for an assisted suicide bill. He comes up with all the usual clichés used to justify turning doctors into assisted killers. Compassion, care, but worst of all, Christian love. He abuses each and every concept.
Lord Carey also conflates a number of key issues (perhaps conveniently, I am not too sure; I do not believe a man of his intelligence could be genuinely confused). I am tempted to go through his article line by line to point out the errors, but will desist.
First, he talks about a parishioner who suffered greatly at the end of her life and died. Lord Carey writes in Saturday’s Daily Mail: “Even the most devout believers will find their faith tested by the sight of a dying person in torment — especially when modern medicine could swiftly bring the torment to a merciful end.”
I am sure this is true. And I am sure – God forbid – if anything similar occurred to my family, I would be tested, perhaps to breaking point – who knows? But the one thing I do know for sure is that I would not lie to myself and pretend killing another or assisting another to kill themselves is “medicine”. It is not. Administering a fatal dose of poison/drugs to another is not medicine. So let’s call a spade a spade.
Lord Carey says the following: “Professor John Ashton, president of the UK’s Faculty Of Public Health, has urged that doctors be allowed to give dying patients a legal dose of lethal drugs if they ask for help to end their life, without any fear of prosecution. The NHS, he said, should ‘stop keeping people going at any price’.
Here Lord Carey dangerously confuses the sanctity of life with vitalism. The sanctity of life holds that no person should intentionally take the life of another – or in this case aid another to take kill themselves. Vitalism requires people to be kept alive at any price. The sanctity of life and Christian medical ethics do not, and have not ever, required ‘vitalism’ or the NHS to “keep people going at any price”.
In the UK each and every competent person of capacity is entitled to refuse medical treatment on any grounds. If this is being abused in NHS hospitals then it should be addressed, but the use of poor standards in socialised medicine as an excuse for turning doctors into assisted killers is reprehensible.
Lord Carey talks about the two cases of Paul Lamb and Tony Nicklinson, who argued before the Supreme Court that they should be “allowed to die,” really meaning doctors should be permitted to assist them to be killed or kill themselves.
Lord Carey, however, then says at the end of the piece that “It would be outrageous if it were extended beyond the terminally ill to an ever-widening group of people, including the disabled and the depressed.”
But the reason why Paul Lamb and Tony Nicklinson requested legalised assisted suicide was because they were profoundly disabled but not terminally ill. The Assisted Dying Bill from Lord Falconer to be debated in the Lords this week could not have applied to them. This only demonstrates that, as it is the most sympathetic cases that frequently involve disabled people who are not terminally ill, the inevitability of the extension of the law to people who are disabled, the very thing Lord Carey regards as “outrageous”.
Next Lord Carey asserts, without a shred of evidence: “Then there are all those cases conducted in the shadows, where doctors, friends or relatives privately carry out mercy killings with a high dose of drugs.”
Lord Carey also states: “After all, church leaders already understand that the use of pain medication such as morphine may occasionally have the effect of hastening death.” Yes this is true, and his wholly in line with Christian medical ethics. Doctors and nurses are entitled to administer even large does of morphine to ease pain, but not to kill, even if it is known, but not desired, that this may shorten the patient’s life.
This is sometimes referred to as the “doctrine of double effect” and it is not, as Lord Carey seems to imply, a cheat. This is because although you may administer morphine to relieve pain, even if this shortens life, you cannot do so disproportionately.
So you cannot administer a lethal dose to someone with a year to live, or even six months to live. That would be disproportionate and demonstrates that the true intent was to kill, not to relieve pain. Intention, in ethics, law and morality is everything.
Then he comes up with the most euphemistic line I have heard in some time. “Why not extend this understanding further, so that the dying have a choice over how and when they wish their lives to end?” What this really means, is why don’t we permit doctors to prepare lethal doses of drugs, not to care for the patient and relieve pain, but to kill. This is not ‘extending understanding further’ – it is turning doctors from carers into killers. That might not sound as nice, but this is what is being proposed.
Lord Carey believes it is shameful, shameful I tell you, that we do not have a “better alternative than the Zurich clinic.” His solution – have a Zurich clinic in every NHS hospital instead. Sure, you can put it beside the abortion ward. Fantastic. Perhaps we could burn all the remains together and generate ourselves some energy.
The worst part of his deeply misguided piece is how he tries to use Christian principles to justify his support for the Bill. He declares there is nothing anti-Christian about the Bill. It is fundamentally anti-Christian to assist another to kill themselves. The commandment is very clear: Thou shalt not kill.
Shamefully, he manipulates Christ’s care and compassion for lepers for his own ends. He states: “Jesus’s mission was underpinned with compassion for those suffering from the most dreadful conditions, such as leprosy. To those people, rejected by society and condemned to live apart, he brought comfort, healing and a new sense of dignity.”
(Note: Lepers were complete outcasts 2,000 years ago as there was no cure for the vicious disease and it was highly contagious. Therefore they had to be “kept apart” from society. Jesus went among them to bring ‘comfort and healing’ not death. He did not say, why don’t we help these poor unfortunates to drown themselves in the Jordan? Sure, that would be compassionate as they can never, and I mean never, rejoin society. Funnily enough, I do not recall him ever saying that.)
But it gets worse. Lord Carey also states the following: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.”
There it is, the future accusation against anyone who refuses to push a loved one over the edge – you are “promoting his or her anguish and pain.” Do not doubt that this is the charge that will be laid on your door should you refuse to help a loved one kill themselves in a culture that permits assisted suicide.
Finally, the Christian message of hope. Now let’s be clear what Christians have hope in. We have hope in Jesus Christ who was crucified, died and was buried: he rose again on the third day. We hope that we will rise too. We do not “hope” that one day a doctor will load a syringe full of lethal drugs that we can then administer to ourselves. Because again, as Lord Carey should know, suicide does not go down well with God. But I suspect he believes this is negotiable with Him too.
Laura Perrins is a former barrister and Co-Editor of The Conservative Woman, where this article was first published.