We don’t need to look in a dictionary for definitions of words which surround the end of life. ‘Death’ means coming to the end of your life, when your heart stops beating, and your brain ceases to function. ‘Killing’ means the death of a man or woman, brought about by another person, as for example in a war. ‘Murder’ means the deliberate killing of one human being by another. ‘Suicide’ means people ending their lives deliberately. What, then, the situation where a doctor provides and administers lethal drugs to another, who wishes to end his or her own life? Is this ‘assisted dying’?
No, it is not. It is a form of ‘killing’; it is stretching the language even to call it ‘assisted suicide’. The Bill before the House of Lords has hi-jacked the phrase ‘assisted dying’, which has its own very proper meaning.
As a priest I have often over the years been asked to assist people who are dying, usually with family and friends. Prayer, confession, anointing – all have been part of the ‘assisting’ of dying. Reminiscence and memory, the saying of thankyou’s – but above all the presence of other people with the one who is dying, these things belong within the phrase ‘assisted dying’. Certainly, the provision of medical care, to ease pain while maintaining consciousness wherever possible, is vital. The amazing strides over the years by the Hospice Movement should banish all thoughts of pursuing this pernicious Bill. We should be ashamed of what we are doing; we need to pour money and expertise into the support of perhaps the most vulnerable people in our society – the dying – but above all our time, our love and our care.