There's an Italian seeking to block the progress of a new Bill that is due to be debated in Parliament soon. You may be relieved to know that the Italian concerned is not Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps you have not even heard of him, his name is Antonio Mennini. Mennini is the Pope's representative to Great Britain and the Bill in question is Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.
I've written before about my support for this Bill which, if is it passed into law, will give terminally ill people the right to have a choice about the timing of their own death. It will allow a terminally ill person to request a doctor to prescribe for them a lethal dose of medication. The only person permitted to administer this medication will be the terminally ill person themselves. The aim of the bill is to offer terminally ill people a way to avoid the pain and suffering sometimes associated with the period before death.
The Bill includes many safeguards to protect vulnerable people who may fear that the changes in the law could be used to bring their lives to an early end without their consent. The authors of the Bill looked at other countries in which similar laws have been operating successfully and safely for several years in order to understand how best to construct these safeguards.
Archbishop Mennini recently spoke at a plenary meeting of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and used that occasion to encourage the audience to work against the Bill. The Catholic Herald has reported the Archbishop's speech in full on their website here.
I understand that the Catholic Church's major objection to the bill is one of principle, namely it holds that life is a gift from God and is sacred from conception to natural ending. No doubt this is a view that is held sincerely by many religious people, however it is by no means universally accepted. As an atheist I don't believe that life is a gift from God. In respect to the terminally ill I believe that there are certain, limited circumstances, where an individual has the right to decide whether or not they wish to end their life.
I respect Mennini's right not to wish to make use of the facility provided by this Bill. If the Archbishop would not want the right to make a choice about the timing of his own death should he be terminally ill then I would fully support his entitlement to this position. However, in his words I see no respect for my own wishes or for those of many other people in my position. If the Bill is passed I will be able to make my choice and he will be able to make his, if the Bill is defeated then I will be denied my choice whereas his will still be available to him.
The Archbishop says nothing about the minority of terminally ill people who today undergo terrible and sometimes prolonged suffering before they die. Reading his objections to the Bill it would be easy to forget that these people exist. As someone who is terminally ill with cancer and who has seen close relatives suffer and die from this disease I have a very personal stake in the success of Lord Falconer's Bill. I consider it strong evidence of the weakness of Mennini's argument that he discusses this issue without once mentioning the position that I and many others find ourselves in. Are we so insignificant that he cannot find a moment to even acknowledge us?
If you would like to find out more about Lord Falconer's Bill on Assisted Dying or support its adoption please visit the website of 'Dignity in Dying'.