Church's mixed messages on the sanctity of life

By Symon Hill
August 7, 2009

Believers in the sanctity of life might be somewhat confused by the Church of England's latest communications update.

One of the first headlines states that “Protecting life is the most important thing”.

It's a sentiment with which many people agree. The Church of England is stating it in the context of current debates on “assisted dying”.

However, only a few paragraphs later there's a quote from the new “Bishop to Her Majesty's Armed Forces”, Stephen Venner. He wants to “support, encourage and enthuse chaplains and members of our armed forces of all ranks in the name of God and his Church”. He doesn't mention any problems with the purpose of those forces, their use of arms or any tension with the notion that “protecting life is the most important thing”.

Soldiers need pastoral care and spiritual support. The problem with military chaplaincy is that chaplains are required not only to work with but to join an institution whose purpose is to engage in violence for whatever cause the government chooses. Soldiers are required to use their weapons whenever ordered to do so and they are denied the freedom to consider the ethics of life and death for themselves.

Speaking personally, I'm not at all persuaded of the case for assisted dying. But I do understand the arguments of those who say that it is acceptable to kill someone who gives consent, but not someone who doesn't.

This week's Church of England communications update reminds me that there are those who appear to apply the same principle the other way round.

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