This Sunday the church worldwide keeps its annual Day for Life. We give thanks for the gift of life and pray that the dignity of every human life be respected from conception to natural death. We are asked this year to pray in particular for the protection of those approaching the end of life from the very real prospect of the legalisation of ‘assisted suicide’.
There is a private members Bill currently in the House of Lords calling for this and it seems likely that the issue will in time be considered by the House of Commons. No-one likes to see a fellow human being suffer and support for assisted suicide appeals to this instinct. But created in the image and likeness of God, we are called to value every life until its last breath. The heroic efforts of so many in healthcare during the covid pandemic to preserve life, (in some cases people have been unconscious for long periods and patiently supported back to health) have been an inspiration and remind us that Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by his concern to heal the sick and alleviate their suffering. Any change to the law to introduce assisted suicide would signal a radical shift in healthcare from sustaining life, to putting it to an end. In an already overladen health system, the removal of the right to life for certain categories of people, or the pressure that some patients might feel to end their lives and not be a burden, raises hugely troubling questions.
We pray today for those who are nearing death and those who accompany them. We pray for all who support the dying with love, upholding their dignity. We pray for all those who minister to the dying, to those who counsel and provide palliative care, to those who work and prescribe medication to relieve suffering.
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which instituted the annual day for life, Pope St John Paul prayed to Mary, Mother of the living:
“Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty & love to the people of our time.”