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The requirements to seek assisted suicide, sometimes called “medical assistance in dying,” have been significantly relaxed in Canada and other Western nations over the past several years. Carey, who served as archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, said in a submission to Parliament that “palliative care and assisted dying can and must exist alongside each other in order to offer dying people meaningful choices at the end of life.”
“It is profoundly Christian to do all we can to ensure nobody suffers against their wishes,” said the theologian, who oversaw the ordination of the first female priests in the denomination. “Some people believe they will find meaning in their own suffering in their final months and weeks of life. I respect that, but it cannot be justified to expect others to share that belief.”
Carey also appeared to reverse his past opposition to assisted suicide laws, contending that the matter is more complex than he previously acknowledged, as well as claiming that the Church of England should not be “putting dogma before the needs of people and that “the sufferer himself” is the “only person” whose desires matter with respect to their lives.
“We were all aware that the Bible contributes nothing directly to this debate. There is nothing in Holy Writ, or in the two thousand years of Christian teaching, that bore directly on this modern problem, largely created by the success of modern science and improved health care,” he remarked. “Furthermore, I began to see that statements like ‘life is sacred’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ were too broad as principles to be relevant to the issue.”
The endorsement of assisted suicide laws from Carey occurs shortly after Anglican ministers met in Rwanda to rebuke the Church of England’s recent commitment to endorse same-sex marriages. Bishops and other church officials noted the theologically liberal drift of the historic denomination and rejected Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury, as the “first among equals” for bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Critics of the procedure argue that governments with socialized medical systems have clear incentives to promote the practice rather than funding treatment for certain patients, thereby overlooking the innate value of human beings and their fundamental right to life.
Carey specifically endorsed policies which verify that “the person is not choosing between care and death but between two types of dying.” Assisted suicide is presently illegal in the United Kingdom; euthanasia, defined as the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering as opposed to helping another person kill themselves, is punishable with life imprisonment.
Officials in Canada recently expanded the nation’s assisted suicide laws to include people with mental illnesses, while a legislative committee recommended that “mature minors” be allowed to seek assisted suicide even without parental consent. More than one-quarter of Canadians strongly or moderately agreed that assisted suicide should be made available in the case of homelessness or poverty in one recent survey, while nearly half said the same with respect to mental illness. Substantial shares of the Canadian population also reject the notion that parents should receive criminal penalties for helping their children secure assisted suicide.
Authorities in the Netherlands recently announced greater availability of “life termination” for children between one and twelve years of age. Portions of the United States, such as Oregon and Vermont, have likewise advanced bills deregulating assisted suicide.