Carey is wrong on assisted dying, says Archbishop

The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke pictured at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke pictured at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison.

The most senior figure in the Church of Ireland has strongly rejected a former Archbishop of Canterbury’s arguments in favour of ‘assisted dying’.

Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke said that he found Lord Carey’s comments in support of allowing the terminally ill to have help to end their own lives “perplexing”.

Writing in Friday’s News Letter, the Primate of All Ireland, whose wife died from cancer five years ago, said that support for helping the terminally ill to end their lives was neither in keeping with Christian teaching nor even some secular understandings of the sanctity of life.

Last month the generally conservative Lord Carey stunned Anglicanism when he said that he had changed his mind on the issue and would support a bill brought forward by former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer which would allow mentally-capable adults with less than six months to live to get help to end their lives.

The Most Revd Clarke said: “One of the most perplexing aspects of the intervention of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, into the debate in England on the side of assisted dying was that a fundamental Christian tenet – that our life on earth is not our property to do with as we choose – appeared to have eluded him entirely.

“Much therefore depends on how we understand the significance of earthly life.

“If life is simply a personal commodity...then life is disposable, entirely at the will of the individual ‘possessor’. This is clearly not the Christian perspective and, even for the non-believer, it is not an automatic understanding of the significance of life.”

Lord Carey said that by standing against changing the law the Anglican church risked “promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope”.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Lord Carey said: “The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering’.

He said that the long-established current laws were “undermining the principle of human concern which should lie at the heart of our society”.

And he said that after reading the Bible again he was “less and less certain of my opposition to the right to die”.

The former leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, who now sits in the House of Lords, said: “Until recently, I would have fiercely opposed Lord Falconer’s bill, following the traditional line of the Christian Church.

“I would have used the time-honoured argument that we should be devoting ourselves to care, not killing.

“I would have paraded all the usual concerns about the risks of ‘slippery slopes’ and ‘state-sponsored euthanasia’.

“But those arguments which persuaded me in the past seem to lack power and authority when confronted with the experiences of those approaching a painful death.”

Lord Falconer’s Bill passed its first reading in the House of Lords last month. Former Tory minister Lord Tebbit warned that it would create “too much of a financial incentive for the taking of life”.

Archbishop Clarke’s article - Are we helping to die or helping to live?