UK Jewish community at odds over assisted dying legislation

Proposed assisted dying legislation has been opposed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis but many leading Jewish legal experts are in support.

Dan Verbin ,

Hospital bed
Hospital bed
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Several of the UK’s leading Jewish legal minds have endorsed legislation that would legalize assisted suicide in opposition to UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who described the bill as “unsafe.”

The legislation is currently making its way through the House of Lords.

In an October 19 letter, Rabbi Mirvis – along with Catholic and Anglican leaders – voiced opposition to the proposed law. The three leaders conveyed their “profound disquiet” with the Assisted Dying Bill, a private members’ which had its second reading in the UK parliament’s upper house on Friday.

The bill would would “enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life.”

The faith leaders expressed concern with “the risks and dangers entailed in the provisions of the bill and the ‘real-life’ practical inadequacies of the proposed safeguards” while also noting that they “hold every human life to be a precious gift of the Creator, to be upheld and protected.”

However, most of the Jewish peers who spoke during the bill’s second reading were in support of the proposed law, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

“If you want to end your life, you are entitled to do so, and if you have a fundamental right to end your life, you must require very powerful reasons why you should be denied assistance if you need to exercise that right and cannot do it without assistance,” Lord Neuberger, the former president of the Supreme Court, said.

He added that if the bill does not included enough protections, then it should be amended, but “it should not be ended.”

“The fact that there will be occasional abuses, as there always are in a free society, is far outweighed by the enormous amount of suffering, relatively speaking, that will be ended if the bill becomes law,” he said.

Lord Leigh of Hurley said: “There is no doubt that the Old Testament believes in the sanctity of life, or, as Tevye the milkman used to say, ‘To life!’ ’To life!’ does not mean that we should believe in the sanctity of suffering. Suffering is to be avoided at all costs.”

Lord Etherton called the bill a safeguard for “personal autonomy,” that is “an inseparable aspect of human dignity, which has been at the heart of the western concept of human rights since the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.”

However, some Jewish peers spoke out against the proposed assisted dying law, as they felt that the safeguard were not strong enough against abuse or that vulnerable patients could be exploited.

Lord Gold called the bill “dangerous,” saying it should be voted down.

He spoke about the risk that a vulnerable patient might feel “guilty that they continue to live, that they are a burden and an expense on the family, and that it would be better for everyone if they were no more. How does one determine whether such hidden persuasion has occurred?”

Lord Grade also expressed worry that “the risks of abuse would be too great” and even a “safeguarding regulation” would not be enough.



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