The Chief Executive of CARE has written for Solas magazine, a quarterly publication bringing a uniquely Christian insight into a whole range of different issues. The latest edition was focused on the theme of health and Nola makes a powerful argument for prohibitive alternatives to assisted suicide.
You can subscribe to Solas for as little as £13 and also access a digital copy of the magazine for a similar price via their website.
The team at Solas magazine have kindly given us permission to print Nola’s piece here as well.
We need positive alternatives to assisted suicide
In the UK, we face an ageing population while at the same time, life expectancy is also increasing. This combination is putting enormous pressure on care systems and on the NHS. I was staggered recently when a friend told me how much money she would have to put up to ensure her husband, who suffers from dementia, receives the quality care he now needs. She was told she needed to have enough money to cover costs for two years upfront. That amounted to the eye-wateringly sum of £100,000.
Age UK statistics from February this year revealed in the UK, 1.5million people are aged 85 or over. There are now 11.4million over 65s and over a third of the UK population, 23.3million, are over 50. In light of these statistics, one of my main concerns is that as vulnerable and older people suffer from a lack of resources or available care, the clamour for assisted suicide will grow all the stronger. Make no mistake about it, the campaign to introduce assisted suicide in the UK has not gone away. They suffered a defeat in September last year when MPs resoundingly rejected the Assisted Dying Bill by 330 votes to 118 and when MSPs rejected assisted suicide by 82 votes to 36. But the determination of supporters of physician assisted suicide remains as strong as ever.
The challenge, therefore, is obvious. Those of us who are against assisted suicide as contrary to God’s will for His people and as an unethical practise that will place pressure on vulnerable people, must champion support and care for the elderly. I would suggest that the Christian worldview offers guidance on how we might proceed. I am repeatedly struck with the sufficiency of scripture to inform our thinking in every area of life. Even if the bible does not give us exact guidelines on elderly care, it certainly gives us principles to work from. Here then are four things we can do.
Firstly we must work for greater respect for the elderly within society. This respect should inform the care and support we provide. Aside from the commandment to honour our mother and father (which means more than just do what Mum and Dad say) there is the instruction in Leviticus to stand up in the present of the elderly: “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged” (Leviticus 19:32, NIV). We must begin by ensuring this principle is upheld in our churches. We must be careful never to dismiss older people as “old fashioned” or view them barriers to progress, Instead, we must be determinedly counter-culture and respectfully listen to older people, to learn from them. In bible times, old age was something to be admired. We need to balance culture’s obsession with youth by powerfully demonstrating genuine and true respect for the older generation.
Secondly, we must examine what the Apostle Paul teaches about our attitudes to elderly people in the church. In Timothy, he says this: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters. Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her.” (1 Timothy 5:1-3) Moreover he goes on in verse 8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Paul’s instructions to Timothy on how he should talk to older men and women apply just as much to us as well. The whole Pauline emphasise is on treating people as if they are part of your family. This principle is even more strict when we think about how treat our blood relatives.
In light of this, thirdly Christians should speak positively and publically about the benefits of the family. In society today, family breakdown costs £47 billion a year. We must champion the family as the building block of society and we should urge, campaign and persuade governments to adopt family friendly policies.
Fourthly, we must also ensure palliative care is more widely available. A recent report in Scotland revealed thousands of vulnerable people were not receiving the support needed. The Scottish Government unveiled £3.5million of funding to increase the availability of palliative care. This is a welcome move and every effort must be made to ensure people can access good quality end-of-life care. In Westminster, Baroness Finlay has a private members bill in the House of Lords to make palliative care more available. Long-term, improved palliative care will relieve some of the pressure on our NHS. It will also ensure older people receive holistic support at the end of their lives.
We must champion powerful alternatives to assisted suicide. I believe Christians can take a lead in championing respect for the aged, pastoral support for the elderly and provide a loud voice in support of strong families. We can also champion good, quality palliative care. Our Christian worldview can help inform how we care for and our attitudes towards the elderly in our society.
Nola Leach is Chief Executive of CARE