UK Bishops Urge Novena to St. John Paul II to Stop Assisted Suicide Bill

The Assisted Dying Bill, introduced in the House of Lords, aims to enable people deemed to have less than six months to live to seek death by euthanasia.

Pope St. John Paul II in 1991
Pope St. John Paul II in 1991 (photo: White House Photo / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

The Bishops of England and Wales have urged a nine-day novena to St. John Paul II asking for his intercession to stop the legalization of assisted suicide. Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary of Westminster, is the lead bishop for life issues and has urged Catholics to write to lawmakers urging that the planned legislation be dropped.

The Assisted Dying Bill, introduced by Baroness Meacher in the House of Lords, aims to enable people deemed to have less than six months to live to kill themselves if they wish to do so. 

St. John Paul’s feast day is Oct. 22, the day the proposed bill is debated in the House of Lords. Bishop Sherrington said in a statement that the timing was “providential.”

“The novena, asking the intercession of St. John Paul II, who spoke courageously about the infinite worth of each human person and witnessed to the cross in his final illness, calls upon Catholics and all who share our view that assisted suicide is wrong, to pray with perseverance that this bill will be defeated,” Bishop Sherrington said.

The Bill has attracted strong opposition, notably from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The Christian Institute, an Evangelical group, has also spoken out against it, and a large federation of doctors and health care workers, Care Not Killing, is also actively campaigning. But the British Medical Association, the official organization representing doctors in Britain, after a narrow vote has opted to be neutral on the subject.

Commentator Charles Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph, noted, “‘Assisted dying’ is a phrase designed to make euthanasia sound good. But we already have, thank goodness, plenty of assisted dying — most notably provided by the hospice movement. Its excellent nurses help people die well, but never, even if patients demand it, try to enable death.

“What the Bill is talking about is not assisted dying, but assisted suicide, a much grimmer concept.”

An all-party group has been formed in Parliament to oppose the legislation. Danny Kruger MP said that the push for such legislation was “dystopic,” warning, “Once you have conceded, legally, the right of some people to request official help to kill themselves, that right quickly becomes universal.”

An attempt in 2015 to allow assisted suicide was strongly defeated by 330 votes to 118.