Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Church in the Public Square - Living and Dying Well - three reflections on assisted dying from PCI conference

There is increasing debate in legislatures and civil society around end-of-life issues, terminal illness and euthanasia. While Northern Ireland is behind the curve in discussing the issues, moves in Edinburgh and Westminster are likely to eventually stimulate local debate.

Union Theological College, in co-operation with The Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland along with Union Theological College hosted the third of their series of Church in the Public Square conferences.

On Thursday 22 January the topic was Living and Dying Well.
Does medically-assisted death have a place within healthcare? Is medically-assisted death just another end-of-life choice that some people have to make? Would a change in the current legislation put pressure on vulnerable people to consider assisted dying because they were making demands on their carers?
Stafford Carson, principal of the college introduced the event and suggested that the agenda “raised major theological and ethical issues which cause much concern for individuals who are directly affected, as well as for legislators and those in the legal, medical and caring professions”.

You can listen back to the three guest speakers ...

Robert Preston is director of the Living and Dying Well think-tank having worked in Whitehall for 30 years and served as clerk the House of Lords select committee which examined Lord Joffe’s Private Member's Bill “Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill” back in 2004/5.

He asked whether we would “seriously consider licensing other criminal acts for certain groups of people and in specified circumstances?”

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well and is a professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University and currently President of the British Medical Association.

She made the distinction between “withdrawing treatment when death is inevitable” and “foreshortening life”.

John Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London a specialist in the medical care of newborn infants for more than 20 years, and author of Matters of Life and Death: Human dilemmas in the light of the Christian faith.

He disagreed with recent statements of support from prominent Christian leaders that “assistance of suicide can be an expression of compassion” and suggested that society’s trend towards “robust individualism needs to be balanced by a recognition of our mutual dependence and inter-relatedness”.

Three complementary yet distinctive contributions which were significantly more nuanced that some attendees expected and which may be of interest to readers.

Photo credit: Jamie Trimble

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