12 July 2014
Last updated at 02:12
Lord Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 until 2002
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey says he will support legislation that would make it legal for terminally ill people in England and Wales to receive help to end their lives.
Lord Carey writes in the Daily Mail that he has dropped his opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill “in the face of the reality of needless suffering”.
But the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called the bill “mistaken and dangerous”.
Peers will debate the bill on Friday.
Tabled by Labour peer Lord Falconer, the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance ending their own life. It would apply to those with less than six months to live.
Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.
Some 110 peers are already listed to speak when the House of Lords debates the private members bill on Friday.
Lord Carey said the case of Tony Nicklinson had had the “deepest influence” on his decision
Insisting it would not be “anti-Christian” to change the law, Lord Carey said the current situation risked “undermining the principle of human concern which should lie at the heart of our society”.
He added: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.”
When Lord Carey was still the Archbishop of Canterbury he was among the opponents of Lord Joffe’s Assisting Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, which was successfully blocked in the House of Lords in 2006.
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He shows that it is possible to be both religious and in favour of assisted dying”
Rabbi Jonathan Romain
Speaking in the House of Lords at the time, he said: “If introduced, assisted suicide might be treated as casually as abortion is today, after a few years.”
But in his article in Saturday’s Daily Mail Lord Carey said: “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 said it was the case of Tony Nicklinson – the locked-in syndrome sufferer who died after being refused the legal right to die – who had had the “deepest influence” on his decision.
Mr Nicklinson’s widow Jane, said Lord Carey’s switch was “huge”.
“I’m amazed actually and thrilled because the Church has always been one of our greatest opponents,” she told BBC Radio 5 live.
“Someone shouldn’t be forced to stay alive with daily suffering – his life was a living hell.
“What god would allow someone to live like that? I just can’t understand it, I really can’t.”
Abused and neglected
However, the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned Lord Falconer’s bill would mean elderly and disabled people coming under pressure to end their lives.
The Assisted Dying Bill has its second reading in the Lords next week
“What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally-ill person in the country?” he wrote in the Times.
“It would be very naive to think that many of the elderly people who are abused and neglected each year, as well as many severely disabled individuals, would not be put under pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide were permitted by law.
“It would be equally naive to believe, as the Assisted Dying Bill suggests, that such pressure could be recognised in every instance by doctors given the task of assessing requests for assisted suicide.
“Abuse, coercion and intimidation can be slow instruments in the hands of the unscrupulous, creating pressure on vulnerable people who are encouraged to ‘do the decent thing’.”
Lord Carey received support from Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue who described the intervention as “a breath of fresh air”.
“He shows that it is possible to be both religious and in favour of assisted dying,” the rabbi said.
The Church of England said in a statement its governing body the General Synod had passed a motion on the issue in February 2012.
The motion reaffirmed the Church’s “support for the current law on assisted suicide as a means of contributing to a just and compassionate society in which vulnerable people are protected”.
The Right Reverend James Newcome – Bishop of Carlisle – told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight the law it stands “has just about the right balance”.
What do you think about Lord Carey’s decision to support the Assisted Dying Bill? Have you been affected by the issues in this story? You can email your experiences to [email protected] using the title ‘Assisted dying’.
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