The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the issue of assisted dying as one of the “biggest dilemmas of our time” but dismissed claims current laws are not working.
Speaking ahead of a further debate on the Assisted Dying Bill in UK Parliament on Friday, Justin Welby said existing legislation recognised “a need for compassion” and that there are moments when people are overwhelmed.
In comments to Channel 5 News, the archbishop spoke of his own experience, including years as a parish priest, of the “incredibly complicated and often very messy issues” of life nearing its end.
The church leader said: “The evidence around the world is that there is a slippery slope and that once you cross this line and say that we accept that part of the role of medicine is deliberately to kill people, that there is always pressure to go a little bit further.
“I’ve watched all kinds of different deaths over time, and as a carer I’ve done that, and I’ve felt that sense of ’I wish it was all over’ and yet come back to the point that that is not giving life its full value.”
Claiming that current UK laws, which ban assisted suicide, are working, Archbishop Welby said: “It’s not tidy but these situations aren’t tidy and sometimes we have to accept that you can’t make everything neat and clear cut.
“There are things that are fuzzy and awkward and difficult and the current law recognises that there are moments where people are overwhelmed.”
Voicing fears that the Assisted Dying Bill could result in a fundamental change in the way society values life, the archbishop added: “I think that this law would cause more breakages than the present situation does.
“It would result in more pressure, more difficulties, more tragedies.
“I think one has to be quite realistic about human nature and years as a parish priest and from my own personal experience, I’m aware that the process of people coming to terms with the fact they’re dying and of their families relating to them, is incredibly complicated and often very messy.
“It’s not susceptible to being ’tidied up’ by an Act of Parliament. It’s not how human beings work.”
Acknowledging that a minority of bishops and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey take a different view, Archbishop Welby told 5 News: “I’m speaking as an individual.
“I have no right to tell people what to do, but ten years as a parish priest enables me to have seen things, to raise things that are genuine concerns and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do that.
“In the end the House of Commons will make up its mind.”
The Bill, which is to be debated by UK MPs in the Commons on Friday, would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have six months or less to live and who request it.
Currently, assisted suicide is illegal under the UK Suicide Act 1961 and is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.