‘As­sisted sui­cide’ amounts to a li­cence to kill

The DPP ‘s guide­lines are op­posed to To­rah val­ues

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - DANIEL LEVY Rabbi Daniel Levy is the min­is­ter of the United He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion, Leeds

THE RE­CENT clar­i­fi­ca­tion by the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) on the ques­tion of as­sisted sui­cide is closer to the thick than the thin end of the wedge. Gone are the hal­cyon days when foe­tuses de­vel­oped calmly in their mother’s wombs. Gone, too, the peace­ful days when old peo­ple were re­spected and treated de­spite their chronic con­di­tions and the cost this en­tailed. It must be un­bear­able to feel help­less see­ing a loved one suf­fer, and I sym­pa­thise deeply with those who find them­selves in such a predica­ment. Nev­er­the­less, as Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks once wrote con­cern­ing as­sisted dy­ing, “… pu­rity of mo­tive has never en­sured right­ness of out­comes; of­ten it has been the re­verse”.

The To­rah makes no dis­tinc­tion be­tween killing one­self or tak­ing the life of an­other; both are deemed mur­der. But the con­tem­po­rary West­ern view seems to be that an in­di­vid­ual is free to treat his or her body as he or she wishes. A ser­vice is pro­vided for abor­tion and rela- tives of those who want to die may help them to do so.

By con­trast, the To­rah tells us that we do not own our bodies and must treat them with re­spect in health, ill­ness or death. Much cur­rent hospi­tal prac­tice runs counter to To­rah val­ues. The Liver­pool Care Path­way, for in­stance, ad­vises the “dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of in­ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures”. This can in­volve ac­tive with­drawal of ther­a­peu­tic med­i­ca­tion and even a drip, thereby en­sur­ing that the pa­tient starves to death.

Lamentably, West­ern so­ci­ety seems to place a higher value on eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity than on in­di­vid­ual life. So, if peo­ple are no longer “pro­duc­tive”, they are per­ceived to have no value. This is not the To­rah way. Life is not a com­mod­ity. As the Bishop of Brent­wood de­clared in a 1950s Cam­bridge Union de­bate: “Right is right even if no­body’s right. Wrong is wrong even if ev­ery­body’s wrong.”

The year af­ter the de­feat in the House of Lords of Lord Joffe’s As­sisted Dy­ing Bill in 2006, I pub­lished The Fox, the Foe­tus and the Fa­tal In­jec­tion in which I pre­dicted that it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the is­sue would be re­vived and as­sisted dy­ing le­galised. De­spite the vo­cifer- ous de­nials, this is now hap­pen­ing. Just as the Abor­tion Act has not served as a safe­guard for foe­tuses, so too the cur­rent clar­i­fi­ca­tion re­gard­ing as­sisted sui­cide does not safe­guard the in­di­vid­ual’s right to life. At best, it is il­log­i­cal and un­man­age­able, at worst it amounts to a li­cence to kill. Peo­ple will ter­mi­nate their own lives and pres­sure will be in­creased upon the old, phys­i­cally ill and men­tally chal­lenged to “al­le­vi­ate the bur­den on so­ci­ety”. More­over, fund­ing for pal­lia­tive care will di­min­ish. The Jewish com­mu­nity must en­gage in the eth­i­cal and re­li­gious de­bate aris­ing from this is­sue.

I am con­fi­dent that the Chief Rabbi will use his maiden speech to ad­dress the House of Lords on the cru­cial moral is­sues that Bri­tain faces and, above all, on the sanc­tity of hu­man life.

Make no mis­take, the wind of change ush­ered in by the DPP is paving the way for a typhoon of sim­i­lar force to that which le­galised abor­tion over 40 years ago.

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