The contribution of the hospice movement

Many Christian denominations support the hospice movement. Hospices provide palliative care - this is where the symptoms of an illness might be treated, such as giving pain relief, but not the illness itself.

Hospices also provide support for a dying person and their families. They help ease the pain of death and allow families to come to terms with the death of their loved one.

Dame Cicely Saunders, the Christian founder of the voluntary hospice movement, believed that a person’s dying months or years should be made as positive as possible and not cut off by euthanasia. She said, “We concern ourselves with the quality of life as well as with its length.”

The aims of the hospice movement are:

  • To help people face and come to terms with their death.
  • To help people die in contentment rather than sadness or bitterness.
  • To help families of patients come to terms with the coming bereavement, and to see their relatives appreciate or even enjoy the final time of their lives.
  • To improve the quality of life of patients.
  • To be available to all - regardless of belief, culture or even ability to pay.
  • To carry out the greatest commands of Jesus (in Matthew 22: 37-39).
  • To provide a much better alternative than euthanasia or dying alone.

Case study - Tony Nicklinson

Tony Nicklinson, a man with a condition called locked-in syndrome, died on 22 August 2012.

The 58 year old was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke in 2005. He described his existence as a "living nightmare" and fought for the right to legally end his life.

Mr Nicklinson had said he was heartbroken by the High Court decision that he could not end his life at a time of his choosing. He had thought that his legal argument would succeed, but conceded that he had forgotten about the emotional component to what he was asking.

Mr Nicklinson had made an advanced directive in 2004 refusing any life-sustaining treatment.

For reflection and discussion

  • What advice do you think a Roman Catholic priest would have given Tony Nicklinson?
  • Explain how Christian teachings and principles could support the use of euthanasia in Tony Nicklinson's case.
  • Explain how Christian teachings and principles could reinforce arguments against the use of euthanasia in Tony Nicklinson's case.
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