Archbishops can outdo hacks in demagoguery

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey must be India Knight in disguise. Unlike India, he’s professionally qualified to ask “What would Jesus do?” Just like her, he answers the question badly.

India was sure that Jesus would share her opinion on the Calais stowaways. Lord Carey has co-opted Jesus as an ally in the matter of legalising assisted suicide. By way of proof both offer a couple of tear-jerking examples, wrapped in woolly thinking and threadbare morality.

Lord Carey’s example is a woman who killed her paralysed friend to stop her suffering, and was charged with murder for her trouble. That, he says, made him change his mind about legalising assisted suicide.

In the past, before Lord Carey was vouchsafed Jesus’s presumed views on the matter, he “argued [legalised assisted suicide] was taking the issue of autonomy too far and would lead to a massive breakdown between doctors and patients.”

Well, he was right then and he’s wrong now. Such a breakdown has occurred in every country where euthanasia in various shapes was legalised. Holland led the way by passing this awful law in 2002, and since then thousands have been killed by physicians (4,050 in 2010 alone).

Most of these deaths are “by request” (assisted suicide) but many aren’t. The legal requirement in Holland is that the patient have “hopeless and unbearable” suffering, which definition is open to interpretation and subjectivity.

What’s unbearable for one person is bearable for another; a condition one physician finds hopeless, another might find less so – and they all know cases of miraculous recovery in cases identified as terminal.

One way or the other, the trust mentioned by Lord Carey was certainly broken. Many old Dutch people are scared of going to hospital because they think doctors may kill them. They realise that what’s legal today may become advisable tomorrow – and mandatory the day after.

This isn’t to say that physicians, prone to error as they might be, aren’t qualified to judge a patient’s condition. They are – and they’ve always done so.

Any hospital doctor will tell you that he has hastened a patient’s death by, for example, withdrawing treatment for therapeutic reasons, when he knew the medicine would prolong suffering more than life. He has also probably administered opiate painkillers in doses he knew would be likely to result in death – without the state’s stamp of approval telling him that was acceptable.

The real problem with legally assisted death is neither the noun nor the adjective, but the adverb. Legalising assisted suicide or any other form of euthanasia indeed gives both doctors and patients too much autonomy, which Lord Carey used to fear but doesn’t any longer. The likelihood of error on both parts would increase greatly.

This law would also give the state an inordinate power of life and death over the people. It’s not up to the state – in this instance represented by judges – to decide whose life may or may not be worth living.

Such are the rational arguments that the rankest of atheists could make, provided he were capable of rational thought. But a Christian, especially a prelate, would – or rather ought to – argue the issue differently.

He’s duty-bound to remind our increasingly atheist world that a man doesn’t have autonomy over his own life. He’s not free to dispose of it as he sees fit because his life doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to God because He gave him life in the first place.

Due to this ownership and this provenance, human life is sacred, and its sanctity is affirmed by Christian law, on which all human laws used to be based in the West. Therefore any human law that encroaches on the sanctity of human life contravenes Christian beliefs, which Lord Carey was sworn to uphold at his ordination.

Instead he opines that Jesus “would expect us in these modern times, with all the skills that doctors have, to tend the very vulnerable at the end of life and help them cross into the place of peace that they are craving”.

This is nonsense on many levels. First, “the skills that doctors have” “in these modern times” have nothing to do with it. Since time immemorial doctors have had poisons at their disposal, along with the skills to administer them, intravenously or otherwise.

It’s not so much that the doctors’ skills have increased as that Christianity has been shunted aside, and hence our commitment to the sanctity of human life has diminished.

Lord Carey should stay within his lifelong professional remit to fight this tragic situation tooth and nail, reaffirming the Christian position resolutely and unequivocally.

Instead he does an India Knight by dousing us with tear-jerking demagoguery that should be left to others – along, for that matter, with the kind of rational arguments I outlined earlier. A clergyman may or may not be a great thinker, but he must always be a great Christian.

It’s the church’s sacred duty to oppose legalising assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion, homomarriage or any other perversion of Christian morality. A priest must never kowtow to secular fads, which is exactly what Lord Carey has done with his sermon of pseudomorality and pseudocompassion.

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