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
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,
"Shadowsa Study Pack on Euthanasia",
1994 (Methodist Church Baptist Union)
7 September 2004