Dying cleric pleaded for assisted suicide to remain illegal

As Lord Falconer's Bill reaches the Lords, a letter by a chaplain with cancer warning against changing the law is to be circulated

A moving plea from a dying clergyman for assisted suicide to remain illegal has been sent to every member of the House of Lords by the Church of England as part of its campaign against a change in the law. Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, which would enable "competent, terminally ill" adults to receive help to end their life, is due to receive a reading in the Lords on Friday.

News of the moving personal plea came as it was revealed that Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, had changed his mind about the Bill and would be supporting it. Lord Carey said he had dropped his opposition "in the face of the reality of needless suffering".

Read more: Rev Christopher Jones' letter in full

Despite its former leader's change of mind, yesterday the Anglican church remained implacably opposed to the idea, with the current Archbishop, the Most Rev Justin Welby, describing the Falconer Bill as "mistaken and dangerous" and warning that elderly and severely disabled people would face pressure to end their lives if it were passed.

Anglicans are mobilising their forces to oppose the Bill with the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, pressing the message of "choose life" in his speech to open the General Synod yesterday. "Life's object is the glory of God and we must not rob God of his glory," he said.

Archbishop Sentamu Archbishop Sentamu Meanwhile Desmond Tutu, one of the world's most eminent Anglicans, entered the debate last night by backing the right of the terminally ill to end their lives in dignity. Writing in The Observer, the retired archbishop, 82, said laws that prevent people being helped to die are an affront to those affected and their families. He also condemned the "disgraceful" treatment of his old friend Nelson Mandela, who was kept alive through numerous painful hospitalisations and forced to endure a photo stunt with politicians shortly before his death at 95.

The Anglican Church has also been working behind the scenes to influence the Lords' vote, using an emotive discussion of the issue by the Rev Christopher Jones, former chaplain of St Peter's College, Oxford, and adviser to the Archbishops' Council, written while he knew he was dying of cancer.

In his account, Mr Jones, who died in 2012, wrote that he had experienced "extreme stress and a sense of hopelessness" as it became clear his condition was terminal, and "might have been open to the option of ending my life by legal means, had these existed".

But since then, he had experienced renewed "energy and vitality beyond anything I could have expected, and I am enjoying life in this period of 'remission", he wrote.

"The legal prohibition of this course was immensely helpful in removing it as a live option, thus constraining me to respond to my situation more creatively and hopefully," he went on. "In hindsight, I now know that had I taken this course, I would have been denied the unexpected and joyful experience of being 'recalled to life' as I now am. In the light of my experience, it is of prime importance that the law should signal the priority of the preservation of life – not at all costs but as the default option...."

He warned that there was "great danger" in giving "decisive significance" to an ill patient's judgement at any one time as their feelings could change "drastically" and quickly.

"My experience has reinforced my conviction that the law prohibiting assisted suicide is an essential bulwark against well-meaning but unwarranted judgements about the value of life and the desirability of ending it in order to minimise or eliminate suffering," Mr Jones wrote. "In my view, suffering is inescapable in this situation, and ought not to be allowed to trump all other considerations, especially when palliative care is taken into account."

The Rev Christopher Jones The Rev Christopher Jones Under the 1961 Suicide Act, it remains a criminal offence carrying up to 14 years in jail to help to take someone's life. The Director of Public Prosecutions issued guidelines four years ago that made clear that anyone who assisted a loved one to die while "acting out of compassion" would be unlikely to be charged.

Supporters of Lord Falconer's Bill were boosted when Lord Carey wrote in a newspaper article that he now believed "those who are painfully dying should be allowed to choose the timing of their end if they want". "The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering," he added.

He said the "deepest influence" on his change of heart had been Tony Nicklinson, who was paralysed from the neck down following a stroke. He lost a High Court case in 2012 in which he argued doctors should be allowed to end his life and died a few days later after refusing any food.

Mr Nicklinson's widow, Jane, told BBC Radio 5 Live that Lord Carey's switch was "huge". "I'm amazed actually and thrilled, because the Church has always been one of our greatest opponents," she said.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev James Newcome, who speaks for the Anglican church on health, said: "I think we were surprised by both the content and the timing of the article, but recognise that actually, quite a lot of good things have come out of it, including that it has brought some of the issues to the forefront...." He urged Lord Falconer to withdraw his Bill so that the subject could be "discussed at length" by Royal Commission.

Lord Falconer said he did not believe this was "sensible or appropriate" option. "It is an unwise suggestion because it will take a very long time," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...