Church’s stance against assisted dying is flawed, says kirk minister

Rev McKenna
Rev McKenna
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A KIRK minister has told a major conference in the Capital that the church is wrong to oppose assisted dying.

The Rev Scott McKenna, of Edinburgh’s Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church, claimed that physician-assisted dying was “morally sound and sits comfortably within Christian faith”.

He said the Church of Scotland had been ready to justify killing in war and accused it of “bad theology” in arguing that it was wrong to shorten human life when people were suffering. Mr McKenna was one of the speakers at a 
conference on assisted dying, organised by Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, which also heard from Dignitas founder, Ludwig Minelli, and Jane Nicklinson, widow of locked-in 
syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson. Ms MacDonald is preparing a Bill to put before members of the Scottish Parliament, which would allow people with a 
terminal illness or condition who are finding their life intolerable to ask for help from a doctor to end it.

Mr McKenna told yesterday’s conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh: “It is wrong to identify physician-assisted dying with murder as if an act of mercy, voluntarily asked for by the person concerned, can in any way be compared to an act of violence inflicted against the person’s will.”

He said the churches and religious groups had been among the most vocal opponents of assisted dying.

“On occasion, the churches and others have racked up the rhetoric in this debate. The language employed has been unhelpful and at times irresponsible and offensive,” he said.

“I think, for example, of the comparison made by Care Not Killing between assisted dying and Nazi doctors.

“The comparison is simplistic and does not stand up to scrutiny.”

Mr McKenna said the church could not base its view of assisted dying on the commandment “You must not kill”, because in the Bible there were circumstances where killing was seen as legally and morally acceptable.

He said: “The Church of Scotland accepts that there are circumstances in which it is permissible to end life – these include abortion, when the life of the mother is at risk or because of incest or rape.

“And the church has employed the ‘just war’ theory, which legitimises killing, often on a large scale.” He pointed out that the people of Biblical times never faced the possibility of being kept alive with a terminal illness for weeks, months or years.

“We are told we shouldn’t interfere with God’s plan by shortening human life. This is bad theology.

“The sanctity of life concept, that God alone chooses the moment of death, is deeply flawed.

“It portrays God as brutal and less loving than we are to our pets.”

However, Mr McKenna said he wanted to hold on to the idea of sanctity of life.

He said: “Precisely because we have value and dignity, we therefore have a right not only to a dignified life but also a 
dignified dying and death.”