Bishop Hugh’s Pastoral Letter for 1st Sunday of Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As you know, the Scottish Parliament is considering a Bill to legalise assisted suicide in certain situations.
It is our human, Christian and democratic duty to oppose this.
Thanks to advances in medical science and health care, we are likely to live longer. This can sometimes mean a drawn-out and difficult old age. The Church teaches that, as life draws to its end, we are not obliged to accept every conceivable means to prolong it. We can allow nature to take its course. St Francis sang of ‘Sister Death’. However, what is currently being proposed is quite different. It will mean that patients with a progressive or life-threatening disease can ask help to end their lives. None of us want to see another human being, or ourselves, in prolonged and severe pain. We all want to be compassionate. But enshrining assisted suicide in law would take us into another territory. It would short-cut real compassion and social responsibility. It would forget the lessons learned from the World Wars and embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It would narrow the horizons of human life. It would subtly change the atmosphere. It would add to the darkness.
Put simply and biblically, the proposed legislation goes against the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ – the foundation of civilised life.
It would impact negatively on the ethos of the medical vocation. Doctors and other health professionals are at the service of life, not death. This explains why both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs oppose this legislation.
It also seems to sideline the achievements and advances in palliative care.
We have been rightly sensitised to the horror of child abuse. Alas, abuse of the elderly is also a reality. This legislation would add to its likelihood. Elderly people would easily feel pressurised to choose this route. Given that it will be the cheaper option, there could be an unhealthy economic incentive at the helm. The policy memorandum accompanying the Bill explicitly looks forward to further widening of the categories of the eligible. It is no surprise that major disability groups oppose the introduction of assisted suicide.
Today’s Lenten liturgy recalls our Lord’s struggle against the forces of evil, often camouflaged as ‘good’. Each generation shares this struggle. May I ask all of you concerned at this legislation – and we should be! – to sign the petition of which your parish priest has a copy. Still better, write briefly, clearly, reasonably and courteously to your MSP expressing your opposition to the Bill and asking him or her to vote against it. The contact details of your nearest MSP can be found on the Scottish Parliament website. The vote is scheduled for around Easter. So, may life have the victory! Let us entrust this matter to Mary, who prays for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
With my blessing in Christ,