The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement opposing a euthanasia measure before the House of Lords this week.
The private members bill, 'Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill' is before a House of Lords committee and is not expected to pass. The bill would make it legal for doctors to "assist a person to die…who is suffering unbearably." The bill specifically states that a doctor may actively kill patients. "'Assisted dying' means the attending physician, at the patient's request, either providing the patient with the means to end the patient's life or if the patient is physically unable to do so ending the patient's life."
The prelates have said that the qualifying requirements for a person to be euthanized by doctors rely too much on subjective criteria. The bill says that the patient himself must find his suffering "so severe as to be unacceptable." In their statement they said, "What terminally ill people need is to be cared for, not to be killed. They need excellent palliative care including proper and effective regimes for pain relief. They need to be treated with the compassion and respect that this Bill would put gravely at risk."
The covering letter from Rowan Williams and Cormac Murphy O'Connor said, "We believe very strongly that respect for human life at all its stages is the foundation of a civilised society and that the long-term consequences of any change in the law to allow euthanasia in limited circumstances would be immensely grave."
The bill is also opposed by the British Medical Association, Help the Aged, the Disability Rights Commission and Disability Awareness in Action. Professor Tim Maughan, the director of Wales Cancer Trials Network at Cardiff University said, "this is not what we became doctors to do". Dr Nigel Sykes, Medical Director of St Christopher's Hospice in London says the bill is "dangerous" and could progress to include patients with mental illness. "Euthanasia without express request will inevitably follow. Patients will be made to think that euthanasia is the decent thing to do," said Sykes.