— Christian beliefs seem to underpin the views of many people opposed to assisted dying in the UK. As Prue Leith appears in an illuminating documentary about the practice for Channel 4, Kate Ng argues that allowing others to experience ‘good death’ is the most Christian thing you can do
My mother and I had a conversation about death recently. It wasn’t awkward or prolonged. In fact, it was a very brief exchange in the middle of a Christmas market in Germany while we waited for our bratwurst. “I think people live too long these days,” she told me. “I don’t want to live till I’m 100. And if I get sick, I don’t want to get to a point where it’s not worth living any more.” I agreed with her, we got our bratwurst, and went about our day.
I know many people will think this is morbid, but I’m glad that my mother and I are able to have casual conversations about death. Not because life isn’t precious, but because it’s too precious to dance around subjects like this. We all deserve a good death, just as we deserve good lives. Why not talk about it?
So when Prue Leith announced her new Channel 4 documentary about assisted dying, I was intrigued. Assisted dying, also known as assisted suicide, is defined by the NHS as the act of “deliberately assisting a person to kill themselves” and is illegal in the UK. The British Medical Journal says it is usually used in the context of “giving assistance to die to people with long-term progressive conditions and other people who are not dying, in addition to patients with a terminal illness”.
In short, if someone with a terminal illness or a condition that gets progressively worse wants to end their life, assisted dying would enable them to do so on their own terms. The alternative is to wait days, weeks, or even months to die. Leith argues that assisted dying is the most humane scenario here. I think she’s absolutely right about this.
However, Leith’s son Danny Kruger, the Tory MP for Devizes, strongly opposes his mother’s views. A staunch Christian, Kruger is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for dying well, which “promotes access to excellent care at end of life” and campaigns for better resources for hospice and palliative care services. This is an important and necessary cause. However, the group also “stands against the legalisation of doctor-assisted suicide in the UK”.
This puts Kruger head to head with his mother. Their documentary, Prue and Danny’s Death Road Trip, tackles this difficult discussion between mother and son, and sees them travelling across Canada – where assisted dying is legal – to speak to people who bolster both sides of their argument. At one point in the show, Leith hits the nail on the head when she asks her son if the root of his objection is because of his faith’s belief that “suffering is good for the soul”. Kruger replies: “I think suffering is part of life, but I don’t think we should suffer unnecessarily.” He doesn’t seem to grasp the irony of what he’s saying.
I would like the option to have a good death of my own choosing
Leith also points out that “a lot” of the APPG for dying well’s membership is made up of Christians, yet the individual members seem to avoid acknowledging the influence of their beliefs. They also seem to decline to admit that assisted dying goes against Christian beliefs. “Nobody would use that as their argument,” Kruger says in response. “We don’t go around saying, ‘God says don’t do this,’ I mean, that would be mad.”
But as long as assisted dying remains illegal in the UK, unnecessary suffering will continue. Perhaps he doesn’t want to believe it, but what Kruger is essentially saying – with all his religious bias – is that even if you’re already dying, you shouldn’t be given the choice to leave this mortal plane unless God decides it’s time for you to go.
As someone who grew up in a born-again Christian household, I know exactly how much Christians think suffering is crucial to the human experience. The idea is that the more you suffer in the name of God, the better your chances are of getting into heaven. So it’s hypocritical of Christians like Kruger to say they don’t think people should suffer unnecessarily.
The argument against assisted dying claims that legalising it would result in a “slippery slope that could lead to widespread abuse and distress” of vulnerable people. Members of the dying well group say that placing restrictions around who can access the service would not work, and the net would become wider and wider, even allowing people with no health conditions to qualify. Certainly, these are questions that need to be answered, and any policy drawn up should consider how vulnerable people will be protected. But, given that three-quarters of Britons support assisted dying for people who are terminally ill, MPs must begin having open and constructive conversations about changing the law.
I think about dying a lot. Not in a morbid or harmful way, but I think about how I want to die and what kind of memories I want to leave behind. And if it turns out that I should wind up with a terminal illness or a progressively chronic condition, then I would like the option to have a good death of my own choosing. I want my loved ones to remember me with joy, not with sadness or trauma at having watched me suffer till the end. It would be far more humane than any of “God’s work”.
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