Many of the arguments made against assisted dying come from a religious basis. The main source of this religious opposition comes from the Jewish-Christian religions. Out of these, the Catholic Church is the strongest opponent. Islamic and Buddhist faiths also do not agree with euthanasia. The Sikh Darma and Hindu faiths have not taken an official position, and may leave it up to the individual. However, there are individuals within these religions, including ordinary believers and priests, who fully support voluntary euthanasia. In a 1993 opinion poll, most religious people who were surveyed were in favour of medical aid in dying. Whilst 93% of people without religious belief supported this, 83% of Protestants, 73% of Roman Catholics and 60% of Jews were also in favour. As Gerald Larue, Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California, said in 1985: ‘...simply because a religious organisation makes a pronouncement, there is no guarantee that the masses will follow.’ There are three basic arguments Jewish and Christian authorities make against helping a person to die. 1 ‘Sanctity of Life’ According to religious teaching, life is a gift from God. Only God can decide when a life begins and ends. Any deliberate killing of the innocent without God’s authority is wrong, and against the natural law. This extends to situations where a person’s life is ended at their request. Voluntary euthanasia breaks this principle – people do not have the right to choose for themselves. 2 Intentional killing is forbidden The Sixth Commandment states that ‘thou shalt not kill’. However, this has never been absolute. In certain circumstances the church allows killing – in war, by capital punishment and in self-defence. Some argue that ‘thou shalt not kill’ is not an accurate translation of the original Hebrew, and that it really means ‘thou shalt not do murder’. However, whatever the translation, church authorities traditionally believe that voluntary euthanasia is against this Commandment. 3 The value of human suffering According to Christian teaching, physical suffering is part of God’s divine plan for humankind. Suffering has a spiritual significance, and should be faced head-on, in the knowledge that it leads to a growth in virtue and helps in redemption. So, voluntary euthanasia, as a means of ending the suffering of an incurably ill patient, is rejected. Many have attacked this belief as being cruel and outdated. Produced by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society 2000. Ref 08/FS 13 Prince of Wales Terrace London W8 5PG. Tel: 020 7937 7770 Fax: 020 7376 2648 e-mail:[email protected] website: www.ves.org.uk religion The church traditionally opposes assisted dying ‘As I understand it, the purpose of life is to love God and to enjoy Him forever. I believe that voluntary euthanasia can be a means to that end.’ The late Reverend Lord Soper, Methodist minister. ‘I sincerely believe that those who come after us will wonder why on earth we kept a human being alive against his will, when all the dignity, beauty and meaning of life had vanished; when any gain to anyone was clearly impossible, and when we should have been punished by the state if we had kept alive an animal in similar conditions.’ A personal view The late Reverend Dr Leslie Weatherhead, a prominent Methodist. The Reverend Brian Anderson, a chaplain for many years, was led to support assisted dying through personal experience: ‘Yes, I believe in sanctity of life. Human life must be the most precious thing we have. It is truly holy in the sense that it is the “all” or the whole of that we have. When there is a painful terminal disease of which qualified medical opinion states that there is absolutely no hope of recovery and when that state of degenerative disease has robbed us of all dignity – then and only then is that true sanctity of living also robbed from us. I happen to believe that whatever little may then be left of that sanctity it should also include and involve my remaining freewill, and so my freedom to decide whether or not to seek a controlled and peaceful end to my life – in other words a good death when nature would have it otherwise. If I am to believe in a God who is in any way able to be personified, then it is in the compassionate and loving attitude exemplified in the one we know ‘...as a Christian and a theologian I am convinced that the all-merciful God, who has given men and women freedom and responsibility for their lives, has also left to dying people the responsibility for making a conscientious decision about the manner and time of their deaths.’ Hans Kung, Professor of Theology ‘I feel that our concerns may be more about our feelings than the well being of the very ill. Is there a time when life as such can become meaningless or of little worth? Can we put ourselves in the position of the very ill? Is it possible to be selfish in this matter without realising that we are being selfish? I have these thoughts from a feeling of compassion for a human being. This is strengthened from a Christian belief in Eternal and Everlasting Life. This is why I am very sympathetic to euthanasia. This is the gentle helping of a person to pass away peacefully and with less suffering, and also the easing of anxiety. This is not an easy matter but this question cannot be pushed aside.’ The Rev. Lord Milverton, Church of England vicar. 2 religion None of the religious arguments against assisted dying are relevant to those who do not share those beliefs. And of course, despite these teachings, many of those who are religious do not oppose voluntary euthanasia either! In fact, many of those who support assisted dying do so because of their religious beliefs. To them, helping a person to die can be an expression of Christian compassion and the love and support that Christians offer to those in need.