Pope Francis will back you, Papal representative tells opponents of change in law, warning it would be a ‘Pandora’s Box’
By John Bingham, and Nick Squires
8:30PM BST 08 May 2014
Legalising assisted suicide in the UK would open a “Pandora’s box” with “horrible consequences” for the frail, elderly and sick, Pope Francis’s personal representative has insisted.
In a rare public intervention into a domestic political matter, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, condemned moves led by Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, to relax the euthanasia laws as an attack on “human life as a gift from God”.
He urged opponents to expose what he called the “reality” of Lord Falconer’s “nice, politically correct and compassionate” term “assisted dying” to mean a form of euthanasia.
And he singled out the issue as a litmus test of whether Britain remains, in the words of David Cameron, a “Christian country”.
His remarks, in a private address to the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales, echo those of Pope Francis, who has attacked moves towards assisted suicide as an attempt to “eliminate” sick and disabled people.
The Pope’s representative in Britain has urged Roman Catholic leaders to form a united front with their Muslim and Jewish counterparts to oppose gay marriage.
And he pointedly offered them the personal support of the Pope on the issue, setting the Church on course for another battle with politicians in the wake of the bruising encounters over issues such as gay marriage.
Last night supporters of a change in the law claimed that the Pope’s representative was “on the wrong side of British public opinion”.
Members of the House of Lords are preparing to debate proposals, tabled by Lord Falconer, to allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients in the next few months.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who both personally oppose the change, have nevertheless promised MPs and peers a free vote and some ministers have signalled their support.
Under the 1961 Suicide Act, it is a crime punishable by 14 years in jail, to help someone to take their own life but prosecution guidelines now make clear that many who do so will escape charges.
Supporters of Lord Falconer say a change in the law is urgently needed but opponents claim that safeguards written into the bill could be swept away.
They point to the extension of assisted suicide in Belgium to children as proof that it would be a “slippery slope”.
Archbishop Mennini spoke about the recent debate about whether the UK is a “Christian country, arguing that although Britain had been “profoundly formed by Christian values”, the influence of the faith had undoubtedly declined.
“In this regard, I cannot fail to express concern about the Assisted Dying Bill which will be discussed in the next few months in the House of Lords,” he said.
“This is a very sensitive issue, which required a serious commitment from us to protect and defend human life as a gift from God.”
Praising those who had highlighted “sense and nonsense” on the issue, he added: “May I encourage … you to announce the gospel of life among our people, as well as in society in general, presenting the reality which hides behind the ‘nice’, ‘politically correct’ and ‘compassionate’ expression ‘assisted dying’.”
He added: “Unfortunately we know from experience how easily public opinion can be manipulated, especially using ‘emotional’ arguments that try to move compassionate sentiments.
“But once we open this Pandora’s box we know as well the horrible consequences that follow.”
“We have seen that even here, among us, regarding abortion, and the last news about ‘selective abortion’.
“But also elsewhere, in other European countries which recently have made change in their laws moving from a limited concept of euthanasia” to a wider spectre, also including children, as in Belgium.”
He pointedly added: “Please be assured of our support, as well as that of the Holy Father, regarding this important issue.”
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of the campaign group Dignity in Dying, which supports Lord Falconer’s bill, said: “Everyone’s opinion on assisted dying must be respected and if Archbishop Antonio Mennini does not want the choice to control the manner of his death then that is his decision.
“However, it is not acceptable for the Archbishop to impose his views, based on principle, on others who do not share them and by doing so cause unnecessary suffering for the small but significant number of people who want the option of an assisted death when palliative care is not enough.
“The Archbishop is on the wrong side of British public opinion not because it has been manipulated but because people listen to those who are terminally ill and their call for a right to choose when they die.”