Updated: Sunday, 20th October 2019 @ 6:24am

The Dean of Manchester Cathedral discusses assisted suicide: ‘It’s a live debate in my heart and mind’

The Dean of Manchester Cathedral discusses assisted suicide: ‘It’s a live debate in my heart and mind’

By Charlotte Dobson

Following last week’s controversial report on the laws of assisted suicide, MM spoke to the Dean of Manchester Cathedral, Revd Rogers Govender and John Cross of the Greater Manchester Humanists, to get their take on the issue.

The Commission on Assisted Dying split the nation’s opinion last week with their new report, describing the current law on assisted suicide as ‘inadequate and incoherent.’

The report’s conclusions attracted vehement criticism from many disability campaigners and pro-life lobbyists but for some, it was a step in the right direction.

Yet the Church of England said it was unconvinced that the commission was successful in its quest, arguing that the most effective safeguard against abuse is to leave the law as it is. But does this opinion stand for the rest of the Anglican community?

Speaking to Mancunian Matters, the Dean of Manchester Cathedral, Reverend Rogers Govender explained how even for the Church, the issue of assisted suicide is far from straight forward. He said: 

“Where do I stand on it? Well, somewhere in the middle. I share the view that life is a gift of God and that God is the only one that ought to be the great decider as it were in terms of life and when life ends.

“And yet at the same time I hear a number of stories of those who are terminally ill or who are suffering in a lot of pain and they just do not have a good quality of life, so I hear their struggles too.

“I’ve not quite made up my mind one way or the other. I think it’s a live debate in my heart and mind really.”

The commission outlined a legal framework that would permit only those who had been given less than a year to live the option of assisted suicide.

They also gave the following criteria:

  • Two independent doctors were satisfied with the diagnosis
  • The person was aware of all the social and medical help available
  • They were making the decision  voluntarily and without pressure
  • The person was not acting under the influence of a mental illness.
  • They must also be capable of taking the medication themselves, without help.

But for Revd Govender, the main priority will always be to help people live rather than die, he added:

“I think the Church’s stance is probably where I’m at as well: how do we actually help people maintain life, in all of its best sense, for as long as possible? It’s all about helping people to live and to live well rather than helping people to die.”

As a pastor and priest, Revd Govender is often faced with the reality of illness and death when supporting his parishioners. He explains: 

“We know that the Macmillan system makes it possible for people in those situations to be free of pain and to be comfortable at the end, to be with their family, in their homes very often, be well cared for by the professional nursing staff as well as there family and people have had very peaceful, dignified deaths.

“I have been at the bed side of a number of my parishioners over the years and that too is dignified end, is it not? I mean it isn’t assisted suicide but it is enabling people to live well to the end of their life.”

In contrast, John Cross, of the Greater Manchester Humanists, argued that the report was a step in the right direction towards assisted suicide being made legal in this country.

He said: “We are entirely in favour of what they are proposing, except they don’t go far enough. Of course, as far as I’m concerned, the report is probably the most practical way to deal with it.

“It’s everyone’s right, to bring your life to an end if the quality of life, the suffering and loss of dignity is too much.”

As ever with assisted suicide, the main concern will always be the protection of vulnerable people, as John explains:

 “Obviously you have to be of sound mind and you need safeguards to prevent people being pressurised into something they don’t want to do but we think there can be such safeguards.”

And the current law on assisted suicide: “At the moment it’s a farce isn’t it?”, John adds.

“That people have to go to Switzerland, if they have enough money, out of the country to do this. If you look at experiences of other countries, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, they all seem to be able to make this thing work satisfactorily.

“It’s having the option, if life gets too much for you which seems to be supportive for a lot of people. In fact, even those who are granted this option of suicide, not all of them take it up. But having it there as a back stop, people seem to find it helpful.”

The full report can be found on the Demos website: http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/thecommissiononassisteddying