VESS Newsletter Profile
What befalls a Scottish Episcopalian Bishop who decides to support euthanasia? He could expect to be "outed", thrown out of a job, deprived of an income, not to mention alienating many simple, devout people who haven't seen the complexities of the v.e. question.
The Rt Revd Bishop Alastair Haggart could expect all of these were it not for the good fortune that he joined the VESS Committee after retiring. But he has not been let off too lightly. Apart from causing great ripples within the Episcopalian community, he has contributed his influential voice on a punishing schedule of media talks about v.e. and given many hours of work demanded of a Convener outside of committee time.
Outsiders often express surprise and admiration when we proudly tell them we have a Bishop heading our Committee! Yet, as Alastair explains, euthanasia is not an anti-Christian issue. "There are two reasons why I am involved with VESS: the first that it is one of the great complex and urgent questions facing western humanity, and the second is because I am a Christian and have a strong respect for the sanctity of life." He speaks of the principle of "double effect" as a cover for well-intentioned fudges. 35 years ago, when he worked closely with doctors in Dundee, he tells of open collusion between doctors, clergy and family. The wife of a cancer patient might hear the words "I'm going to leave these pills - if the pain gets very severe don't hesitate to give them - they are very strong."
From a strict Calvinistic upbringing, he was something of a revolutionary, regarding the way creationists viewed things as "blinkered." He says, "From the day I was a student I was committed to a search for truth and I've tried to stick to that in the face of cultural and political passions." But he believes we will maximise the probabilities for successful v.e. reform by being open to those who disagree with us, helping them to abandon their simplifications. "Our attitude and advocacy must be compatible with concerns such as compassion and respect for others' autonomy and integrity in the widest sense. Bishop Haggart practices what he preaches - next May he has been invited to speak to hospice doctors at the Edinburgh's Royal College of Nursing.
Alastair Haggart - writings on v.e. can be found in VESS Newsletter Sep 1991, A Theological Perspective on Euthanasia. See also VES (England) Newsletter Jan 1996 page 15.
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