Thought for the Month (November 2009)

We hear a lot in the media about assisted dying, euthanasia and the Liverpool Care Pathway, commonly subtitled 'Pathway to Death'.

Society is grappling with these life and death issues and they are deep issues that need careful consideration by us all. At one level there is an instinctive appeal in these things as none of us wants either ourselves or others to suffer. We cannot help but sympathise with those who are unfortunate enough to be suffering from a degenerative illness; who can see ahead of them the path that that disease will take them and who want to take control of their life, and death, before they lose that control or life becomes intolerable.

However, what we do have to be very beware of is that the right to die does not become a duty to die.

It is fighting the slippery path to 'duty to die' that should motivate us as Christians.

Whilst those suffering degenerative disease deserve all our sympathy, empathy, concern and diligent loving care at all times, their terrible plight should not be used to bring in legislation that would affect us all, albeit in a surreptitious, almost undetectable, way.

We all like to be in control and it is that sense that we do have a right to be in control at least of our own lives, which is so beguiling about arguments for assisted death and euthanasia. We fight for that right to be in control so that we can put a stop to our life when it becomes too painful in physical or emotional terms to go on.

However, for most of us the only degenerative disease we are faced with is called old age; usually a gentle process of decline and increasing dependence on others. Or put another way we may begin to see ourselves as an increasing burden to others. We begin to see ourselves as a physical burden, being so limited in movement and the ability to do things; a financial burden spending what we had hoped would be our children's inheritance on carers, care homes and nursing homes; a time- stealer being a burden on our time-stretched offspring.

This 'being a burden' is something we put on ourselves and who has not heard elderly people say this of themselves? It is not necessarily felt by our children at all, but we worry that it might be. Having vociferously fought for the 'right to die' all of our lives, now in the evening of our own life does the thought cross our minds, "If I am a burden should I do the decent thing?"

Dear friends, this is why as your ministers we would urge you to think very, very carefully before you advocate rights for assisted dying and/or euthanasia and to look very carefully at the full implications for something like the Liverpool Care Pathway and most importantly the way it is administered.

It is natural to have concern about the level of care we receive at the end of our lives and the Christian response to this has been the hospice movement initiated by that wonderful Christian lady, Dame Cicely Saunders. Her aim was peace, dignity, integrity and freedom from pain at the end of our lives, together with care for our whole person and our family. As Christians let us ensure her vision is upheld.

Those of us with faith in Jesus Christ have the added benefit of being assured of our destination and prepared to leave our departure in the hands of our Maker. That does bring a blessed sense of peace and the ability to hand over control. Beware of taking too much control!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

With love,

Karen & Bob Street

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church