In response to calls for the legalisation of euthanasia from several countries, Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, Kent, made a distinction between euthanasia and "withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity".
The Archbishop of Brisbane, the Rt Rev Peter Hollingworth, denied the Church was advocating euthanasia, but said it wanted people to have the right to choose to have treatment withdrawn or withheld "in extremis". While the conference has no legal powers, it has considerable moral authority over the world's 80 million Anglicans.
The definition of the Church's stance has emerged after two weeks' debate behind closed doors. Its report declares that "a legitimate moral distinction can be drawn between allowing someone to die and causing that person to die".
Although bishops from Africa and India had described all forms of assisted death as "murder" at the first meeting, they had come round to the idea that there were circumstances where allowing someone to die was the Christian thing to do. These include taking someone off a life-support machine where there is "no reasonable prospect of recovery", and providing analgesics even if the effect may be to hasten death.
The bishops ruled out the idea of legislation because of the "virtual impossibility" of preventing abuse, the danger of "a diminution of respect for all human life", and the potential destruction of the doctor-patient relationship.
Andreas Whittam Smith,
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