Former Archbishop of Canterbury Urges UK Lawmakers to Legalize Assisted Suicide

(Photo: REUTERS/Ferran Paredes)George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, leads a ceremony of prayer in the Crypt Chapel at his official residence in central London on Oct. 5, 2001.

The former head of the Church of England has urged U.K. lawmakers to legalize physician-assisted suicide, renewing his stance on the controversial issue that is considered "out of step" with the view of the Anglican Communion.

Lord George Carey, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, spoke in the House of Lords on Monday and praised countries like Canada that have passed laws allowing terminally-ill patients to end their lives prematurely through physician-assisted measures.

According to Premier Christian Radio, Carey's comments were made after Baroness Margaret Jay of Paddington issued a call for the British parliament to take up voting on the issue again after an effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide was defeated in the House of Commons in 2015.

"The example of Canada and other countries show that laws can be made that protect the most vulnerable and halt the unnecessary prolongation of life, which for some is not worth the candle," Carey was quoted as telling lawmakers.

Even though Carey admitted in his comments to lawmakers that his position on the subject is "out of step" with the Church of England, he argued that "love and compassion" is what drives his position on the subject.

Carey also spoke out in support of the 2015 physician-assisted suicide bill. While Carey lobbied for the passage of an assisted suicide bill, the current head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has been vocal in his opposition to assisted suicide legislation.

"[A] change in the law to permit assisted suicide would cross a fundamental legal and ethical Rubicon. This respect for the lives of others goes to the heart of both our criminal and human rights laws and ought not to be abandoned," Welby wrote in an op-ed in September 2015. "While it is not a crime in the U.K. for someone to take his or her own life, we recognise that it is a tragedy and we, rightly, do all that we can to prevent suicide."

(Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble)Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arrives at York Minster before a service to consecrate Reverend Libby Lane as the first female Bishop in the Church of England, in York, northern England January 26, 2015.

"The Assisted Dying Bill requires us to turn this stance on its head, not merely legitimizing suicide, but actively supporting it," he continued. "We are asked to sanction doctors participating in individuals taking steps to end their lives. This is a change of monumental proportions both in the law and in the role of doctors; it is little wonder that it is opposed by the medical profession."

Welby also signed onto a letter signed by other religious leaders in the U.K. that urged lawmakers to oppose the 2015 bill. 

"In the U.K., some 500,000 elderly people are abused each year, most by family members, often for financial reasons. Many of these would also be vulnerable to pressure to end their lives prematurely," the letter states. "It may not be possible fully to meet the needs and aspirations of all those who in various ways are vulnerable, but we are convinced that the current law, alongside the published policy for prosecutors, provides much greater protection for the vulnerable than would legislation based on this bill."

Welby wrote in 2014 that it would be "very naive to think that many of the elderly people who are abused and neglected each year, as well as many severely disabled individuals, would not be put under pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide were permitted by law."

"It would be equally naive to believe, as the Assisted Dying Bill suggests, that such pressure could be recognised in every instance by doctors given the task of assessing requests for assisted suicide," Welby continued.

"Abuse, coercion and intimidation can be slow instruments in the hands of the unscrupulous, creating pressure on vulnerable people who are encouraged to 'do the decent thing.' Even where such pressure is not overt, the very presence of a law that permits assisted suicide on the terms proposed by Lord Falconer of Thoroton is bound to lead to sensitive individuals feeling that they ought to stop 'being a burden to others.'"

"What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally ill person in the country?" he asked.

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