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Bishop warning on assisted suicide

A Roman Catholic bishop is to use his Easter message to attack moves to legalise "assisted dying" in the United Kingdom.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, will use his homily on Easter Sunday to attack the Assisted Suicide Bill, saying it would change laws "which uphold the sanctity of human life and protecting some of the weakest in society".

Legislation has been drawn up by Labour former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton and MPs would be allowed a free vote on the issue if it is debated in the House of Commons.

At a mass held in Shrewsbury Cathedral, Bishop Davies will say: "Today in our country many consciences struggle amid the shadows as they try to distinguish between good and evil in everything which concerns the value of human life itself.

"In a matter of weeks, a Bill will be brought before Parliament aimed at legalising assisted suicide.

"This Bill will seek to change long-established laws which uphold the sanctity of human life and protecting some of the weakest in society.

"It is hard to understand that, at a time when there has been so much public concern about the care of the most vulnerable in our hospitals and care homes, we would be contemplate weakening, rather than strengthening the legal protection offered to some of the weakest and most vulnerable."

Several previous attempts to legislate on the issue of assisted dying have failed and both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said they personally oppose change.

But last month Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb backed change, saying he would vote in favour of allowing terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to choose to be helped to kill themselves.

Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, technically punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2010 after one high-profile case indicated that anyone acting with compassion on the will of a dying person was unlikely to face criminal charges.

That has been the case in around 90 such deaths examined by prosecutors since then.

In his homily, Bishop Davies will also welcome recent support for Britain's Christianity from politicians.

Prime Minister David Cameron became the latest to do so, writing in the Church Times this week that Britain should be "more confident about our status as a Christian country".

The bishop will say: "At a time when the Christian contribution to our past - and, indeed, our present - is often air-brushed from memory, this is surely a welcome recognition.

"It is also a brave acknowledgement as an increasingly, intolerant secularism seeks to impose its grim orthodoxy on society.

"And yet, the difference Christianity makes must not simply be confused with the effectiveness of community projects and the generous spirit of service which Christian faith certainly inspires.

"Pope Francis insists the Church can never be regarded as a sort of NGO, a merely humanitarian agency.

"If we do not confess Jesus Christ, the Holy Father says, we would no longer be the Church; everything we built would be like sandcastles if it were not based on our faith in Christ."

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said many disabled people shared the bishop's concerns that a change in the law would weaken the legal protection offered to society's most vulnerable.

Mr Hawkes said: "The current ban on assisted suicide works. It sends a powerful message countering the view that if you're disabled it's not worth being alive, and that you're a burden. It's a view that is all too common.

"This issue tells us a lot about attitudes to disability. Why is it when someone who is not disabled wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible?

"The current law provides crucial protection to any person who feels under pressure to end their life. Many disabled people are concerned at moves to chip away at it."


From Belfast Telegraph