On Friday morning the news broke that an elderly couple Peter and Penny Duff, from Bath, who were both suffering from terminal cancer, had become the first UK couple to die together in the Swiss euthanasia clinic, Dignitas.

I don't know why this story got to me so much. Perhaps it is because today at Dundonald Methodist we have our "Friendship Circle" Service. many of our congregation, myself included keep refering to the Friendship Circle by its previous name of Seniors Fellowship... Not quite sure why it was "rebranded". But every year after their service, some people comment to me how much "so-and-so" has aged in the past year... and that is often true, but more often I am struck at what a vital part many of our senior members still play in the life and ministry of our church.

Or perhaps it is because we have recently been looking at the 10 Commandments again at church, and we have, in passing, looked at euthanasia and at the position of the elderly in society, whilst studying "Do not Kill" and "Honour your Father and your Mother" respectively. My fear is that within a culture where the elderly are so chronically undervalued, while families and social services are in difficult financial straits, the much campaigned-for, 'right to die' might all to easily become the expectation or obligation to die. Maybe I have read too much science fiction, or even classical literature, but I worry that we might just end up with a society where people feel that they are a burden or an embarassment to those around them and should "do the decent thing."

I am sorry that Mr. and Mrs. Duff got to the stage that they felt, because of their illness, that life was not worth living any more. As a pastor I have encountered a number of people in that physical, psychological and spiritual state, and pray that I never find myself there. I also pray for the loved ones they have left behind.

But I equally pray that there never comes a time that there is a Dignitas on our doorstep.
ps. What I also turned up in the Sunday Times this morning, was a feature suggesting, as many pastors and chaplains already know, that we may not have active euthanasia in this country, but many terminally ill people, often elderly, commit suicide by starvation... Refusing to eat or drink and slowly (or not so slowly) wasting away... This can add to the suffering not only of the person with the terminal diagnosis, but also those impotently watching them die by degrees.


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