Archbishop's adviser backs euthanasia

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The Independent Online

A senior adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that there is a "strong compassionate case" for mercy killings, and that people should not be prosecuted for helping terminally ill relatives to end their lives.

A senior adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that there is a "strong compassionate case" for mercy killings, and that people should not be prosecuted for helping terminally ill relatives to end their lives.

Canon Professor Robin Gill, a leading Church of England theologian, acknowledged that the debate over mercy killings has long divided the clergy, but said that most churchgoers now believe that the law should be changed. "There is a very strong compassionate case for voluntary euthanasia," he said. "In certain cases, such as that which involved Diane Pretty [the woman with terminal motor neurone disease who campaigned for the right to be helped to die] there is an overwhelming case for it."

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last week sent Professor Gill to give evidence to the parliamentary committee hearing on Lord Joffe's Private Member's Bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill. Campaigners for a change in the law on mercy killings seized on Professor Gill's remarks - and his appearance before the Joffe committee - as evidence that the church is preparing to reconsider its position on voluntary euthanasia. But a spokesman for Lambeth Palace said that Church of England remains "firmly opposed" to the legalisation of assisted death.

Professor Gill told The Observer: "Anglicans are not united on whether we should legalise euthanasia. The bishops have consistently shown that they don't believe in changing the law, but the majority of churchgoers think it should be amended."

Mark Slattery, a spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia society, said: "What Robin Gill seems to be saying is that mainstream church opinion is leaving those at the top of the church behind. His comments send an important messages at an important time."

The professor's comments came a day after a former policeman who killed his terminally ill wife walked free from the Old Bailey with a nine-month suspended sentence. Judge Richard Hawkins said Brian Blackburn's decision to slit his wife's wrists was "the last loving thing" he could do for her.

Arun Kataria, a spokesman for the Church, said Professor Gill's personal opinions did not signal a change in the church's policy. "We firmly oppose the legalisation of euthanasia," he said.