Select Committee on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Methodist Church

  Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the call for written evidence to the Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

  1.  The Methodist Church in Britain has about 330,000 members and 6,000 churches. As in wider society, within the Church there is diversity of opinion on this issue. This response is based upon debate that has taken place at the Methodist Conference, the overall governance body of the Methodist Church, in committees and working groups.

  2.  Christians have much to offer to this debate, including theological, moral and philosophical clarity and insight but also the spiritual dimension of our lives as individuals and communities. The Methodist Church opposes Euthanasia but recognises that this does not lessen the complex moral problems integral to the final stages of some terminal illnesses.

  3.  The Christian tradition insists on the infinite respect owed to every individual human being. This respect is not proportional to their level of well-being, not to any assessment of how seriously ill, injured or disabled they are. This is often referred to as the "sanctity" of human life. In the instance of someone seeking assistance in dying there is a difficult and ongoing, as yet unresolved, debate as to whether allowing such a process shows such respect. It is for this reason that the Methodist Church would want to draw particular emphasis to condition 2(e)(iv) in the Bill the alternatives, including, but not limited to, palliative care, care in a hospice and the control of pain;

  4.  The Methodist Church has made the following statement regarding legally binding Advance Directives:

    (i)  They may not give sufficient opportunity for a patient to change their mind in situations whose emotional and/or physical character were not accurately foreseen.

    (ii)  They may not have sufficient safeguards to inhibit the desired medical action/inaction before a distressing situation goes into remission (if only temporarily).

    (iii)  Vulnerable people may be exposed to undue pressure in construing their Advance Directives (swayed by emotional arguments about "quality of life" or political arguments about insufficient resources to sustain lives).

    (iv)  No Advance Directive can cover all conceivable circumstances to which a patient may come; so a binding living will might prove to be prone to inconclusive interpretations, leading to distraction from professional medical care.

  There is some reassurance that the Bill refers specifically to assisted dying being requested due to the current condition of the person seeking such a process, removing some of the anxieties about being able to cover all "conceivable circumstances". We also recognise that the individual would have to be considered competent to make such a decision. We would still state, however, that the above concerns would continue to apply to protect vulnerable people in the controls and processes outlined in the Bill. We are not sure they are sufficient to enable people to make appropriate choices.

  5.  The Methodist Church will continue to engage its members in this debate, recognising that there are some divergent views within its membership. We would be pleased to be further consulted regarding this important issue.

  Sources:  Methodist Conference Statement on Euthanasia, 1974

Methodist Conference Issues related to Euthanasia, 1993

"Shadows—a Study Pack on Euthanasia", 1994 (Methodist Church Baptist Union)

7 September 2004

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