Assisted Suicide - Church Leader Speaks Out

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has spoken out against proposed assisted suicide legislation in Scotland, describing it as point of “no return” for the vulnerable.

Writing in The Scotsman, Rev Greenshields warned that lifting “the current societal prohibition on killing”, by legalising assisted suicide, “would represent a significant shift from which there would be no return”.

“We are concerned that, should assisted dying be legalised, the way our society views older people and those with disabilities will, over time, become more utilitarian”, wrote Rev Greenshields, representing the Church of Scotland.

“The lives of those on the margins of society will inevitably come to be seen as less valuable or even burdensome”, he continued. “Is this really the kind of society we aspire to?”

Focus on care, not killing

Rev Greenshields cited numerous concerns regarding assisted suicide, including “the application of the law in practice, the perception value of human lives, and also the effect this change is likely to have on the provision of care – especially palliative care”.

Stating that such a law would ultimately undermine the provision and informing ethic of palliative care, Rev Greenshields referred to the case of Canada, where over 10,000 Canadians were killed by assisted suicide in 2021 alone, and the inadequate provision of care forcing many citizens to choose death.

“We would advocate for more and better palliative care”, wrote Rev Greenshields, walking “people through the realities of illness and death”, but not killing them.

“The end of a person’s life involves not simply the moment of their death, but also how they experience their final days and weeks. A good death does not need to be one which is hastened.”

“Informed public debate” needed

Rev Greenshields called for a true debate on assisted suicide, noting the “considerable confusion” among the general public about what “assisted dying” means in practice, after one survey found that only 43% understood its true legal meaning.

“It must be made clear what the proposed ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill is about, to allow a better and more informed public debate about important and sensitive issues”, he said.

“We urge everyone to remember that all of our actions have effects on others and that life is lived and death experienced as part of community and society.”

By viewing some lives, beset by illness, old age or mental illness, as problems to be dealt with cheaply, at the lowest cost to the state, it is inevitable that many vulnerable people will be pressured to end their lives so as not to burden family members and taxpayers.

This ‘utilitarian’ approach, as Rev Greenshields points out, would profoundly alter the relationship between doctor and patient – a change for the worse – taking the focus away from care and redirecting it towards saving money. In the end, lives will be lost unnecessarily.