Photo: The debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, Edinburgh

PQRM Committee's Letter to MSPs on Assisted Suicide Bill

Date: Tuesday, 26 May 2015
Author: Rev David M Blunt

(The letter copied below was sent to all MSP's by the Rev D M Blunt on behalf of the Church's Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee.)

26th May 2015

Dear Member of the Scottish Parliament,

Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill

We write to ask you to attend the debate on the Assisted Suicide Bill which is due to take place in the Scottish Parliament on 27th May and to vote against the Bill. Below are the main reasons for our request: 

1) The Bill is based on the mistaken idea that a person has a ‘right’ to end his or her own life.

The sixth commandment of the moral law contained in the Bible states, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). By this commandment we understand that God condemns both murder and self-murder. The Larger Catechism, a doctrinal standard of our Church and of other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, explains that among the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are: “all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of publick justice, lawful war, or necessary defence” (Q. 136).

Our lives are in God’s hand to do as He pleases with them and not in our hand to do as we please with them. It is therefore a sin either to take one’s own life (which is what those who seek and procure an assisted suicide will be doing if the proposal becomes law) or to help another person to take his or her own life (which is what the ‘licensed facilitators’, pharmacists, doctors, police, etc., will be doing if the proposal becomes law).

There are choices we make in life which have can have a major impact upon our futures. We come to decisions on such things as education, career and marriage. Suicide cannot be regarded as just another one of these ‘life choices’. There is nothing subjective about it for it is a final choice from which there is no going back. According to the Bible the implications for those who depart this world without forgiveness for their sins are enormous and indeed horrendous: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

We do not believe that any of the situations in which people may find themselves, including those stated in the Bill, however difficult and distressing for themselves, their families and their friends, justify the deliberate ending of their lives. For anyone to attempt to make a definitive judgment on how long someone has to live or on the quality of someone’s life is to assume the place of God.

2) The Bill is a further attack upon the sanctity of human life.

It is regrettable that the Bill and its supporting documents do not contain any discussion of what constitutes the real worth of a person’s life. We maintain that man’s true dignity lies in the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God: each of us has a never-dying soul which means that uniquely among the creatures we are capable of knowing and enjoying God and of finding our real fulfilment in this relationship.

In recent decades laws have been passed or proposed in our country which allow the ending of life at both ends of the age range. At one end we have the destruction of defenceless infants by abortion; at the other there is a clamour to allow euthanasia to be performed on the elderly and frail. This Bill would permit the hastening of death for some individuals in the middle. Is this what is meant by a “compassionate” society? Do we have any idea what sort of culture we are creating by abandoning the Christian foundations of our nation?

Even if there was just the slightest possibility that ending one’s life or assisting someone in the ending of his or her life was going beyond what properly belongs to man then we would surely be wise to refrain from such actions. Yet is it not plain to us all that there is far more than a possibility that such actions are wrong?

In March the First Minister stated concerning the Bill: “I believe we should support people to live and I am therefore in favour of good quality palliative care.” We are very thankful to the Lord for the advances in palliative care which have been made in modern times. These developments mean that the suffering associated with conditions which may be beyond medical treatment can often be alleviated significantly. We believe that in a truly benevolent society such care ought to be supported rather than suicide, whether assisted or otherwise.

3) The Bill is a real danger to individuals who need the protection and affirmation of our society.

The Bill requires that the person seeking assisted suicide must have a terminal or life-shortening illness, or a progressive condition which is either terminal or life-shortening. Yet as the First Minister also said in March: “There also remains a major stumbling block to assisted suicide: How could you have sufficient safeguards?” If this legislation is passed then our fear is that people with various debilitating conditions may begin to think that they are under pressure not to be a ‘burden’ on their loved ones or wider society. They may feel that there is an obligation upon them to take the steps which have been sanctioned by parliament whereby their lives may be brought to a close – especially when there are people available who have official approval to assist them in this ‘duty’.

According to the Larger Catechism another sin forbidden in the sixth commandment is “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life.” While the duty of preserving life applies to us all it is especially relevant to those who work in the health professions. We regard it as particularly sad and indeed perverse that medical practitioners, whose very calling is to sustain life, should be employed in helping to bring about the early demise of some pf their fellow human beings.

In addition we believe that those who are entrusted with the making of our laws should use their authority to protect and succour the weak and vulnerable in our society and not to facilitate the bringing of harm to them – in this case actual death.

4) The Bill is in direct opposition to the Scottish Government’s own policy on suicide.

Since 2003 the Scottish Government has been operating a suicide prevention strategy through NHS Scotland under the banner of ‘Choose Life’. The website tells us: “Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. One suicide represents lost life, lost talent, lost creativity, a lost mother or father, brother, sister, son or daughter and a wound that does not easily heal in those who are left behind.” (http://www.chooselife.net/Aboutsuicide/index.aspx)

We could not agree more with this statement. It is a message which is also contained in the Bible where we read: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) However hopeless our condition may appear to be there is the promise of eternal life through faith in the Saviour who said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The Bill is obviously in contradiction to this worthwhile strategy. If it passed it would effectively mean that the state is saying that there is ‘good’ suicide as well as bad – the sort of confusion which always results when we try to be wiser than God.

Suicide is never the answer to any plight we may find ourselves in and is likely to plunge us into a far more miserable eternity. The way to true peace and lasting happiness is, as it always has been, through the gospel of God’s undeserved grace in the Lord Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

For these and many other reasons we respectfully urge you to be present in the Parliament on Wednesday and to vote against the Bill.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,

Rev. David Blunt

(Convener)