Section 13

Opinions of the churches

“Nine suicides in the Bible.   None invoked the wrath of God”

At the end of June 2022, Mr William Nye, secretary-general of the General Synod of the Church of England gave it for his opinion that assisted suicide could lead to people being pressurised into ending their lives and that “a change in the law would undermine the intrinsic value of every human life”.   Dismissing a YouGov poll showing that 73% of the general population backed such a change, he said “Opinion polls are not a valid means to test ethical arguments”.

At the same time Evangelical Christians in America, fresh from celebrating the reversal of Roe v. Wade and looking forward to abortion becoming all but illegal in Republican-controlled States, announced that the next step in their “right to life” campaign would be a reversal of assisted dying laws in such States as Vermont and Oregon where it is currently permitted.

Bearing in mind the acute suffering currently being experienced by many people who travel to the centres in Switzerland (and the cases of thousands of others who simply cannot afford to go) the interpretation of such views can only mean that a “right to life” at your conception must ultimately become a “duty to endure” when your life is drawing to a close.

In any event, there is no Christian basis for such opinions.   There are nine suicides mentioned in the Bible.   None seems to have invoked the wrath of God.   It wasn’t until the fourth century AD that, influenced by Augustinus, the Christian church started preaching about suicide as evil and sinful. It has subsequently transpired that this was based on an erroneous translation and re-interpretation of the 6th of the ten commandments.

At the core of the Christian belief is the concept that your life is the property of God, not of you.   Therefore if you end your own life, you are taking something that belongs to God and you are therefore committing a sin.   David Hume responded by saying that if ending a life that would otherwise have continued until God chose to end it is wrong, then surely prolonging a life that would otherwise have ended is also wrong.

In the Muslim faith, suicide is seen as sinful.   However, it is a forgivable sin.   Failure to believe in God is an unforgivable sin.

For Hindus, suicide is not permitted – although an exception is made in the case of death by fasting.

For Buddhists, suicide is accepted so long as it can be presented as being in an “honourable” cause.

Only in Judaism is suicide or assisted suicide seen as sinful, full stop.

In their 24 years of operation, Dignitas have conducted assisted suicides for members of all faith groups. Priests, monks and vicars have sometimes been present.

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Section 14

Summary and conclusions