Following the debate on Dr Simon Eyre’s Private Members’ Motion on Assisted Suicide on 10 July 2022, General Synod voted 289 in favour, 25 against and 33 abstentions; the Church of England issued the Press Release More funding needed for palliative care, General Synod hears, in debate on Assisted Suicide.
The 2012 debate
General Synod last debated Assisted Dying on February 2012 for which the papers were: Independent Commission on Assisted Dying, GS 1851A and the Background Note, Chair, Mission and Public Affairs Council, GS 1851B.* The motion:
“That this Synod express its concern that the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying is insufficiently independent to be able to develop proposals which will properly protect the interests of vulnerable and disabled people.”
as amended by:
‘That this Synod
(a) express its concern that the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying was insufficiently independent to be able to develop proposals which will properly protect the interests of vulnerable and disabled people;
(b) endorse the responses to the Commission on Assisted Dying referred to in paragraphs 7 and 8 of [GS 1851B*];
(c) affirm the intrinsic value of every human life and express its 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; and
(d) celebrating the considerable improvement in the quality of care of the dying brought about by the hospice and palliative care movements and by the input of clinicians, clergy and others, encourage the Church’s continued involvement in the wider agenda of the care of those approaching the end of their lives and the support of those caring for them.”
was carried after a division of the whole Synod. The voting was: In Favour 284; Against 0; Abstentions 4.
One report of the debate is given in the Synopsis produced by Salisbury Members of General Synod , which observed:
“This was an extremely one-sided debate and even the amendment to the original motion was accepted without disagreement. It is important to note that the motion and the amendment were concerned with the shortcomings of the Commission and its report rather than with the issue of assisted dying as such. Nevertheless many participants in the debate took the opportunity to express their opposition to assisted dying and their support for the highest standards of palliative care”.
The 2022 debate
Documents relevant to the debate on 10 July 2022 are Assisted Suicide and Palliative Care, GS 2266A and the Background Note from the Secretary General, Assisted Suicide (Private Member’s Motion), GS 2266B.* The full wording of the PMM was:
“That this Synod:
(a) appreciate the enormous and untiring efforts of health professionals, including healthcare chaplains, in constantly developing and maintaining the excellence of palliative and end of life care provision in this country;
(b) call on Her Majesty’s Government to guarantee and expedite the adequate funding and resourcing of palliative care services within the NHS to ensure that the highest possible standards of care are achieved and made universally accessible; and
(c) affirm that the current legislation in relation to Assisted Suicide referenced in Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (and its application through the DPP guidelines) should remain unchanged.”
Whilst the Church of England Press Release, supra, focusses on the need to allocate more funding to palliative care – point (b) of the motion – other reports emphasize the majority voting to reject assisted dying: Synod rejects assisted dying by a large majority, Church Times; Church of England opposition to assisted suicide remains strong, (CARE); Church of England ‘adamantly rejects’ assisted suicide, Christian Institute.
Given the differences in the motions before Synod in 2012 and 2011, and the discussion preceding the vote, it is difficult to make an exact comparison. However. Michael Sadgrove, (now the last but one Dean of Durham Cathedral), observed:
“1 in 6 @synod members were unable to support the motion on #AssistedDying. A significant minority who are not persuaded that the Church’s traditional stance is the right one. Christian voices need to be heard on every side of this urgent national conversation”.
* The 6 February 2012 Groups of Session, Business Done report on the amended motion incorrectly refers to GS 1815B at paragraph 8(b) rather than GS 1851B, and this typo is carried over to GS 2266B for the 10 July 2022 debate.
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