MY THANKS to Simon Cox of Monarch Books for pointing me in the direction of George Pitcher, author of A Time To Live: The Case Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (9781854249876, Monarch Books, 1st July 2010, £8.99). Whatever your personal views on the topic, it’s an area that we can ill afford to ignore as this recent BBC News report, for instance, makes clear: Locked-in man seeks right to die
George is an Anglican priest and, until recently, was The Daily Telegraph’s Religion Editor. I invited him to tell us about the book. He writes:
I don’t believe that a case can be made politically, culturally or medically for helping people to kill themselves. I believe that it brutalizes not only those who choose to die by taking a lethal dose, but also brutalizes those who enable them to die – and that would very often be doctors and nurses. I believe that it would create a two-tier structure for the value of human lives – where the terminally ill, the frail, the elderly and the disabled will come to think that society has affirmed that their lives are not worth living, that their lives are worth less than those of the healthy and able-bodied. And I believe that it would undermine our world-leading standards of palliative care, if death becomes a clinical treatment option. All this, is explored in my book.
I was anxious that the publishers didn’t just want a “religious” book. And those of us who oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia are a bit sensitive about our religious objections to the practice. This is partly because some of those who support euthanasia want to characterise the debate as between swivel-eyed religious bigots (apparently, like me) and compassionate and rational secularists who have the best interests of the suffering at heart.
It’s meant, frankly, that many of us have rather avoided going into theological arguments against assisted suicide and euthanasia. And this may mean that we neglect what our Christian faith informs us about the business of living and dying. There is surely a balance to be struck here – the Christ does not wish us to suffer, but he nevertheless says “Follow me”.
It’s as if he’s not wishing his suffering, his Passion and death, on those who follow him. But he is inviting us to go the extra mile with him. Because it’s at the cross – and at our own cross – at that moment of revelation when human death meets divine life that the most profound knowledge of life and death is vouchsafed.
The very loss of control, the dependence on the care of others, is where lives are most intensely cherished, with the affirmation that every life, however diminished, bears the image of God and is of value beyond measure.
The word “dignity” is very often used in the context of assisted suicide or euthanasia to mean personal autonomy and control over the moment of death. Again, I think this is to miss a point that is made in our faith.
The very loss of control, the dependence on the care of others, is where lives are most intensely cherished, with the affirmation that every life, however diminished, bears the image of God and is of value beyond measure. It is also a life laid down sacrificially, because it is a life that is given as a living sacrifice, which protects the vulnerable and itself requires protection.
But it’s not just that sense of self-sacrificial love and ministry – it is that confirmation that every life is treasured by those who love, as God treasures them every minute, even to the bitter end. It is that unequivocal statement that, even now, even in the moments before death, this life is of immeasurable value, a treasure beyond price.
It is, finally, also to say that there is a miraculously wonderful reason – and a sure and certain hope arising from that reason – why our gospel story does not end in Gethsemane, with Jesus asking his disciples to help him to die to avoid the hours that come after. And it is, of course, ultimately our duty and our privilege to join with him in saying “Not my will, but thine be done”.