Church too dangerous but travelling abroad to commit suicide is ‘reasonable’

10 November 2020

The Wilberforce Academy’s Ben John compares Parliament’s recent comments on church lockdown and travel for assisted suicide.

On Thursday 5 November, England entered a second national lockdown.

Churches have been deemed unsafe and have been banned from meeting for worship with threat of criminal sanction. Church is considered unsafe and a danger to communities.

But as lockdown began, Health Secretary Matt Hancock clarified to the House of Commons that one ‘reasonable’ reason for leaving home is travelling abroad to commit suicide.

Question about assisted suicide in Parliament

Pro-assisted suicide Tory MP, Andrew Mitchell, who earlier this year said that euthanasia could become legal in the UK within the next 4 years, was concerned that the lockdown might discourage people who wanted to travel for assisted suicide to remain at home.

He said:

“These new regulations… could deter anyone else from travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death. This will undoubtedly cause many more Britons to suffer as they die due to a lack of a safeguarded law here in the UK.”

Hancock attempted to explain what the law on assisted suicide is, saying: “Under current law, based on the Suicide Act 1961, it is an offence to encourage or assist the death of another person. However, it is legal to travel abroad for the purpose of assisted dying where it is allowed in that jurisdiction.”

In fact, this is wrong in law. There is no legal basis to say that taking someone to die abroad is legal; it is only the prosecution guidelines that have changed to essentially make this possible.

The Health Secretary responded by explaining that encouraging or assisting the death of another person is illegal. However, he clarified that an individual “travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying” would have “a reasonable excuse and … not be breaking the law.”

And so we have a parliament that is concerned that people will be deterred from travelling to commit suicide or be killed. You are allowed to travel abroad to die; but not round the corner to a Sunday church service.

Report in The Times

The question from Mitchell came after a report in The Times, after a 45-year-old woman with terminal breast cancer said she has had to rush to Switzerland to die before she was ready.

She wrote:

“With the second wave of the virus well on its way, I fear that if I leave it any later my plans could be jeopardised: what if I am forced to quarantine? Many of the larger airlines have postponed their flights to Switzerland and others are getting cancelled; what if flights are grounded completely? I feel I must go now, before I am truly ready. Britain’s ban on assisted dying is forcing me into a premature, lonely death.”

This is a heart-breaking story, but we cannot let individual stories like this distract us from the truth about assisted suicide and euthanasia. Christians have so much to offer those who are in pain and hurting and we must continue advocating for great improvements in palliative care.

What are our priorities?

Where are our priorities as a nation? That campaigners and Andrew Mitchell want to use the lockdown to further their agenda to bring in assisted suicide and euthanasia laws is abhorrent.

We have shut society down, we have crushed the economy, we have destroyed people’s lives and livelihoods, all to save lives at any cost. But now we are worried people will not be able to travel to kill themselves? Now is the time to be placing a renewed emphasis on caring for those who are sick, serving the poor, and visiting the lonely. Now is the time to be supporting communities in preventing suicide, to be prioritising the spiritual and emotional health of the nation, not saying that it is reasonable to travel to commit suicide.

What does God think?

There is some speculation in the Church over whether the pandemic is a judgment from God. Whilst I will not comment specifically on that, I will say this: we deserve judgement. We do. We deserve judgement and we deserve this pandemic. We are a nation who hates God. We have criminalised worship of the triune sovereign creator God of the universe, but it is reasonable to travel to commit suicide.

We have set ourselves up as god. We want control. God is telling us we are not in control. Death is a reality of life, but we are doing all we can to avoid death by shutting everything down and living in fear, because we are faced by the reality of death out of our control. Those who promote assisted suicide and euthanasia have succumbed to the idolatry of self and autonomy, we are seeking control over that which God is sovereign.

“Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!”
(Isaiah 5:20 ESV)

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