The DUP has backed the leader of the Church of Ireland after he challenged Lord Carey’s support for the legalisation of ‘assisted dying’.
The party said the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t want the law change, though one campaigner yesterday countered that an opinion poll found people 3:1 in favour of legalisation.
In yesterday’s News Letter the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, whose wife died from cancer, described the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s arguments in favour of legalisation as “perplexing”.
DUP peer Lord Morrow said last night that many people will be relieved that Archbishop Clarke has “spoken so clearly”.
He added: “He is mindful, as are we all, of the sensitivities involved and that every case involves an individual and their family.
“There are huge problems with the proposals which have been put forward and already debated at Westminster, surpassed by the concerns about what future steps would be taken if any move towards assisted dying were introduced.”
He added: “The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland believe in the value of human life and we should measure our society on how we treat the most vulnerable in it, not by installing criteria to judge when a life becomes worthless.”
A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Hospice said it is a member of umbrella organisation, Help The Hospices, which says it is “not aware of any hospice that currently supports a change in the law to legalise assisted dying in any form, or any that considers that a change in the law would be in the best interests of the people they care for”.
The organisation says recent years have seen “significant improvements in healthcare decision-making, which give people greater control over decisions about their treatment and care”.
Bert Rima, chair of the Northern Ireland branch of Dignity in Dying, said that the last Northern Ireland social attitudes survey found people 3:1 here in favour of assisted suicide.
“I do not recognise a moral distinction which Archbishop Clarke made in approving ‘medical non-intervention’ while opposing ‘direct intervention to end life’,” he said.
He supports Lord Falconer’s bill for assisted dying, noting it has safeguards which require the patient to be of sound mind, to have at most six months to live and to have requested to die on two separate occasions, satisfying two separate doctors.
Regarding fears of patients feeling pressured by relatives, he counters that relatives “almost always” urge their loved ones not to end their life.
Hospices in Oregon now back the measure 17 years after it was introduced there, he added.
l See the full text of Archbishop Clarke’s comments on assisted suicide at www.newsletter.co.uk