Mark 2. 14

Everybody hated me.  That’s not a whine of self-pity, it’s just a dispassionate statement of facts.  The Jews hated me because I was working for the Romans, the loathed occupying force.  And the Romans hated me even as they used me, because I was a despised traitor working for them against my own people.

I tried not to let it bother me.  After all, I carried some clout – people had to stay on the right side of me; if I reported them to the Romans it could have very serious consequences for them.  And I had a comfortable lifestyle.  When I was getting a bit short I just extorted more than the Romans asked for and pocketed the surplus.  But deep down there was a gnawing hollow in my soul.  It’s one thing to be despised by others, but when you secretly despise yourself you can never find peace.

I sat at my table every day watching the world go by, and I was intrigued by the laughing rabbi who often passed by with his growing band of followers and hangers-on.  He was young for a rabbi, no more than thirty, I should think.  Nothing escaped his gaze. I watched him, and I saw it all.  The child with a scraped knee, the mother with a heavy load to carry – I saw him notice everyone and everything.  He never hesitated to break his journey or stop his teaching to lend a hand to someone in need.  I could see why they all loved him, why he attracted such crowds wherever he went.

And then came the day he paused by my money table, waved his hand over the piles of money and shrugged, as if to say, “Do you really think this is what matters?”  And then, leaning over the the table towards me, he spoke very distinctly:  “Follow me.”

I looked down at the piles of money. I felt the void it had all made in my soul, and at once I knew I wanted to be part of what he was doing.  I abandoned my table with its piles of money spread out for everyone to help themselves to and I stepped up to this young man with the laughing eyes, his arm extended in invitation.  I took my place at his side and he clapped a welcoming arm around my shoulders.

And in that moment I discovered the money I had so carefully hoarded had been a wearisome burden from which I was suddenly free, liberated, and facing who knew what adventure!

On outrage and sadness


Back in September I visited the refugee camp known as the Jungle in Calais. I was outraged by what I saw. People condemned to live in conditions that would bring a prosecution if animals were being kept like this. Meagre shelters, ineffectual against the coming winter, no waste disposal management or proper sanitation, scant food, infected water, and sewage running between the dwellings of this “bidonville” or shanty town.

I blogged about it. I had thousands of shares of the blog post, dozens of comments in agreement and just one troll who embarrassed himself far more than he embarrassed me.

I wrote to my MP. I told him about what I had seen; I also sent him a link to this blog which describes children standing for days in a sea of mud until their feet are rotting, all because European governments have decided not to give them a place of sanctuary. I concluded my letter by quoting the words of Peter Sutherland, the UN’s Special Envoy on migration who had also recently visited the camp in Calais. He had responded to the suggestion that if we give these people asylum it will encourage more to come (as though what’s driving them is some mysterious “pull factor”, when clearly it’s the “push factor” of what they’re escaping from) by saying that it’s a monstrous idea that we mustn’t help suffering people for fear that more suffering people might ask for our help.

I asked my MP to draw my comments to the attention of the Prime Minister (which I know he has not done) and I made one constructive suggestion: allow people to apply for asylum at any EU embassy anywhere in the world. In that way, applicants can be vetted and their refugee status assessed in the countries where they are. Those whose applications are rejected will know there is no point coming to Europe. Those whose applications are successful can come here by safe and legal means. The rug will be pulled out from under the people smuggling racket, and we will know that those who come have been vetted and are genuine refugees with a real claim on our humanity and kindness.

My MP’s response? “Thanks. Peter Sutherland does not speak for us and would do well to mind his own business! The Prime Minister has struck the right balance on this very tragic and difficult issue.”

Really? That’s all? No comment on the eye witness testimony of children dying in appalling conditions, of the risk of a cholera outbreak being brought through the tunnel to our shores, on the desperate, skinny refugees wasting away through malnutrition? I was outraged.

I wrote to him again – always very politely, I wasn’t trying to troll or antagonise. He replied with a resolute disagreement to my next email, and ignored the one after that. He tweeted. I tweeted my replies, disagreeing with him, always politely, never hurling insulting epithets at him, but disagreeing robustly, and continuing to champion the cause of the refugees.

I remembered a doorstep conversation I once had with him in which he spoke of his active Christian commitment. So sometimes I tweeted him Bible verses which I believe Christians should allow to shape their thinking. “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 10. 21). “You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you—love him like yourself, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19. 34). “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10.19) “Do not neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13. 2)

I read reports of persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq, about how they are facing the most inhumane, appalling treatment at the hands of people infected by a barbarous savagery that does not see them as human. They are excluded by prejudice and hatred from most of the refugee camps in the region and many are living in hiding in unimaginable conditions. I felt outraged on their behalf.

And then came Paris. And I found my outrage subsumed in an overwhelming sadness for the hundreds of dead and bereaved, for the hatred that exploded in an orgy of violence and murder. And here’s what I’ve concluded. Outrage is an exhausting emotion, and it’s one that polarises. The last thing this world needs is more polarisation. Sadness is an empathetic emotion that reaches out and builds bridges.

And so I have relinquished my outrage. Yes, it’s still inexcusable that human beings are being left to drown, starve and freeze to death around our borders. Yes, I will continue to draw their plight to the world’s attention. Yes, I am going back to Calais to do some more volunteering when I can, and donating to those who are free to go more frequently than me.

But my feeling is one of sadness. Sadness for those who can close their hearts to the refugees around Europe’s borders. Sadness for the desperate people who came to us in need of sanctuary only to find our door slammed in their faces. Deep, deep sadness for the many who have lost their lives in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Syria, in Nigeria, in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, all over this world. An overwhelming sadness for those who cannot see that the ultimate blasphemy is to be merciless, compassionless and hateful in the name of the most merciful, the most compassionate, the most gracious God, and who one day will have to give account to him of why they associated his love and goodness with such evil.

And out of that sadness I will do what I can to help. I will write, donate, volunteer, pray, reach out and build bridges. I will love my Christian neighbour and my Muslim neighbour and my refugee neighbour and my Sikh neighbour and my Hindu neighbour and my Buddhist neighbour and my hard-hearted politician neighbour and my pagan neighbour and my atheist neighbour. But I will no longer allow emotions that polarise to find room in my heart. As one of the prophets of my own tradition has said, “We are all his (God’s) offspring.”

I’m not naïve enough to think that a warm fuzzy feeling will change the world. But I do know that polarising emotions can only make it worse. In the end, love wins. Love always wins.

Beauty in decay

IMG_1613This article was originally written for Through the Roof ( and is reproduced here by kind permission

I have just come back from a week’s holiday in the North Yorkshire Moors. The weather has been glorious and I’ve divided my time between reading and walking in the stunning North Yorkshire countryside. I haven’t needed a coat – in fact, if it hadn’t been for the varied hues of the trees I could have thought it was early summer, not October.

IMG_1591And this got me thinking. The trees can be truly spectacular at this time of year, especially in the golden autumn sunlight, but the reason for their beauty is that something is dying. The vibrant tapestry of colour is in truth a symptom of decay. And yet, within the manifestation of death is the secret of life, because these leaves as they fall to the ground and decompose, becoming subsumed into the soil, will provide the nourishment that ensures the ongoing life and health of the tree from which they fell.

IMG_1611How typical of God, to take something that is dying and clothe it in beauty! There is a parallel here to the way in which He works in our lives. This is true for everyone who follows Jesus, but perhaps it is more explicitly experienced and understood by those who live with physical weakness and disability, particularly those whose conditions are degenerative, for whom weakness is a progressive pathway.

Paul, with his painful eye condition, understood this well: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4. 16-18, NASB)

IMG_1607Like the tree divesting itself of its summer foliage, our bodies are in a gradual state of decay – this is the part we can see. But, just like the unseen microbes which bring about the eventual decomposition of the leaves, turning them into nourishment for the life of the tree, there is something going on in us unseen, something of the Spirit of God which is refining us and making our inner self more Christlike. It’s not for nothing that the English word humility derives from the Latin word for the decayed, organic component of soil – humus.

cropped versionIf we allow the outward decay of our bodies to work in us the character of Christ, not only will the germ of eternal life be doing its work in the depths of who we are, but, like the autumn trees, we will find that there is something very beautiful about the process.

Cleaning the Jungle

jungle waste

Photograph courtesy of Viv Dawes,

From the first day I heard about the terrible plight of the refugees in Calais (their real plight, that is, not the media myth of economic migrants desperate to come and sponge off what’s left of our benefits system) I knew I had to do something to help. I had some ideas of what would help, and discussed them with a like-minded friend. But it became apparent, from reports from volunteers at what has become known as the Calais Jungle, most of the things I had thought of were no longer needed. However, what was needed was a huge waste removal operation.

We appealed for help, and had enough volunteers to fill two seven-seater people carriers. We begged, borrowed and bought shovels, garden forks, rakes, litter pickers (lots of litter pickers), industrial quantities of anti-bacterial hand wipes, gallons of disinfectant and thousands of rubbish sacks. We turned up yesterday, along with about a hundred others, and were met by the wonderful team who had organised the entire event. We were organised into teams by Médecins du Monde who had assessed which parts of the site were most hazardous and the top priority for clearance. My daughters and I were wearing wellies and waterproof boiler suits we had bought in B&Q and another friend supplied everyone with cut-proof gloves, which we wore over protective latex gloves.

waste managementSo what exactly were we clearing up? It mainly came into four categories – food waste, packaging waste, inappropriate donations and raw human sewage. Well meaning people have been turning up at the site with large amounts of western-style women’s clothing which most eastern women would find too immodest to wear, with stiletto shoes, and with children’s toys and clothes. There are, in fact relatively few women and children – a few hundred at most, with about four to five thousand men. People had donated foods like dry pasta. But the meagre fires the refugees are able to build do not heat the water for long enough to cook pasta, so packets of it had been discarded. People have also donated really useful items like thermal socks, but they have come packaged and the packaging has been discarded.

I was struck by a very great contrast between two things. The first was the question I was asked most frequently before I went, and the second was the question I was asked most frequently while I was there.

The most frequent question I was asked before I went was, “Why don’t they clean up their own rubbish?” and although I knew, from reading reports from people at the Calais Jungle, that the refugees were in no fit state to clear their own rubbish, it was hard to articulate exactly why. But it didn’t take very long on the site for the reasons to become crystal clear. I identified three reasons from my own observations.

Firstly, everyone I met was stick-thin. These people have walked hundreds of miles, with very little food, to get here. They are exhausted, sick and traumatised. Most have had to leave everything and everyone they love behind and are depressed, and sick with worry about their families.  All are facing a fearful, uncertain future which has completely demoralised them. That is the first reason.  (This, incidentally, is why many have smart phones. If you and your family had to flee at short notice and got separated, ending up in different parts of the world, what’s the one thing you would grab before you ran? I bet it would be your phone, with all their contact details in it, so you could find out where they were and indeed if they were dead or alive).

The second reason is that the French government appears to have taken a decision not to carry out waste management at the site. There is not one single waste bin anywhere to be seen – not one, between five thousand people. Some private donors have managed to rig up a few chemical toilets in cabins at one part of the site – about one for every five hundred people, and for many a very long walk from where they are staying. So imagine if you were living with five thousand people in tents and flimsy frames covered with tarpaulins, with not one waste bin between you. Where would you throw your rubbish? Imagine if you had a fifteen minute walk to a toilet you shared with five hundred others. What would you do when you were desperate? And if you had not one shovel, not one rake, not one litter picker and not one rubbish sack between you all, how much of your own waste would you clear up? There was evidence in some places of attempts to burn rubbish but most was far too wet to burn.

The third reason is that the British government, despite its austerity plans, has found nine million pounds to spend on the Calais Jungle. And on what, you may ask, has it chosen to bestow this largesse? A safe sanitation system just in time to prevent the inevitable cholera outbreak in Northern France which some successful stowaways will import into southern England? A system of waste disposal points and a fleet of waste removal lorries? Well no, actually. It has spent it on a triple-layer razor wire fence. If like me, you wondered what is the difference between barbed wire and razor wire, where barbed wire has merely spikes, razor wire has blades. So while the French government has set up insanitary conditions that make a cholera outbreak highly likely, the British government has set up the overcrowding that makes it pretty well inevitable.

We set to and began clearing the waste. My heart sank when I saw the huge mountains of it, and smelled the unbelievable stench. But I was astonished at how quickly a dozen willing, properly equipped volunteers can clear an area. It was really heartening to see the vast piles rapidly bagged up and stacked ready for the removal which, goaded into action by this day of volunteering, the local authorities had agreed to provide.

The most frequent question I heard while I was working at the site was from the refugees themselves, and it was this: please may I have some of your rubbish sacks? Inspired by our efforts, many of the residents joined in enthusiastically. One man of indeterminate age – anything from fifty upwards I would guess, of probably Syrian appearance, dressed in a thobe, the loose ankle-length garment often seen in African and Middle Eastern Muslim men and a kufi hat on his head, shod only in flip-flops, joined in tirelessly throughout the whole day. His English was limited but he communicated constantly in the universal language of a smile. My youngest daughter was struggling by herself to fill a rubbish sack using a garden fork and a litter picker. Two lads, probably younger than herself, came and gestured at her tools. When she hesitated, uncertain of their meaning, they smiled and gently relieved her of her implements, then set to with a will, filling sack after sack while she held it open for them. The reality is that, given the wherewithal, these people who feel the shame of living like this just as acutely as we would feel it, would keep their own site clean and tidy. But the governments have chosen to let them live like this, stripped not only of adequate shelter and sanitation but also of human dignity.

At times we were clearing the areas around the primitive water taps that had been erected. Regularly throughout the day, people in search of drinking water would vie with us for space on one side of the row of taps while on the other, devout Muslims performed wudu, the ritual washing that takes place before each of the five daily prayers. I was impressed by their devotion – my daughter used the word integrity – that even in this extreme situation they still kept the faith and observed their religion. I also felt a little awkward and embarrassed to be picking up litter from in front of them while they performed this duty – as though something mundane was impinging on something sacred.

At the end of the day we either threw away or thoroughly disinfected every implement we had used. We jettisoned our gloves and boiler suits. We took it in turns to stand in a bucket of disinfectant in our wellies before removing them and putting our shoes back on. We carried out the best infection control we could before bringing anything we had used back to the UK.

As I left I reflected on two things. Firstly, that if a farm was keeping animals in this condition, the RSPCA would close it down and prosecute the owners. And secondly, I was remembering an article I had read in which the author had calculated that if every single one of the residents of the Calais Jungle was allowed into Britain and given the allowance to which asylum seekers are entitled of around thirty-six pounds a week, it would cost every man, woman and child in this country fifty-seven pence a year during the short period of recovery before they found jobs and started contributing back to our economy. I believe this is a scandal. I will certainly be going back to Calais to do some more waste clearance, and I hope that between a few of us we can set up enough crowd funding to start to pay for bins and some kind of toilets.

If I had my way, I would love to invite the Foreign Secretary, the Right Hon. Philip Hammond MP to come with us on our next waste-removal trip. I would buy him a dictionary so he could occupy himself on the journey looking up the meaning of the word marauding.  In the meantime, those of us who went yesterday from our area, and a few others who are inspired by what we had to tell, will bless the Calais Jungle in word and deed, and hope to go on blessing it right out of existence, looking forward to a day when these people have a safe, clean shelter to live in and a dignified way of providing for themselves and their families.

Footnote: still thereThree days after we cleared the rubbish, the Calais Mairie has still not carried it away.  One almost begins to think the two governments have a reason for wanting to encourage an outbreak of disease – can it be that, as with the abandonment of Mare Nostrum, they want to use deaths as a cynical deterrent, “pour encourager les autres”?  If so, they are no better than the Assad regime or the ISIS fighters from whom these people have fled for their lives.  Closing borders is bad enough.  Engineering mass deaths is an atrocity.

Extract from briefing on Rob Marris MP’s Assisted Dying Bill

This was written for and is reproduced here by kind permission

For those who found my very detailed briefing too long to plough through, here is a summary of its main points:

1. What does the bill propose?
The bill would allow someone who has a terminal illness and is expected to die in the next six months to request a physician-assisted suicide provided that they have a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end their own life, and have been offered all palliative care alternatives. It does not allow a doctor to end a patient’s life, but allows the doctor to give the patient whatever drugs and assistive devices they might need in order to end their own life.

2. What has happened in other countries which have a law like this?
In Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Oregon where a physician-assisted death is permitted, some common patterns have emerged:
• There is no real way to ensure that someone is not being coerced into taking this decision e.g. by relatives who stand to benefit from the person’s will.
• Very tightly defined laws have gradually expanded to include many cases originally outside the remit of the law. This has happened not by amendments being made to the law, but by stretching the definitions of terms included in the law – e.g. “unbearable pain” has been extended to include depression and “terminal illness” to include psychiatric conditions previously considered treatable.
• A massive year-on-year increase in the numbers of assisted deaths has ensued.
• There have been disputed cases where it is believed someone was killed against their own or their family’s wishes.
• The practice has gone beyond voluntary assisted death to involuntary euthanasia.
• There is not one single example of a country where this law has been enacted and these effects have not been observed.

3. Are there any other worrying factors?
• There has been a blurring of ethical lines, so that organisations drafting and promoting the legislation are distributing the lethal drugs, and stand to profit financially as well as ideologically from an increase in assisted deaths.
• There is evidence of doctors failing to report assisted deaths to the proper authorities, so that the reported assisted deaths do not accurately reflect the actual numbers.
• A breakdown of trust has occurred between doctors and patients so that in Holland 10,000 people now carry anti-euthanasia passports for fear of being killed by doctors in the event of an illness or accident.
• In this country, Baroness Warnock has been advocating for a duty to die, that people should not have the right to be a burden to their relatives or the NHS. This is morally very different from a right to die.
• Already in the UK, healthy young people with a normal life expectancy are routinely and repeatedly invited to have “Do Not Resuscitate” written on their medical notes simply because they have a disability – something no one would ask their non-disabled peers. (see

4. Does assisted suicide always work?
According to a BBC report, attempts at assisted suicide fail to lead to an easy death in almost one in five cases. There is evidence from Holland and Oregon of supposedly fatal doses leading to nothing other than gasping, vomiting and comas from which the patient later recovered.
In 18% of cases doctors felt the need to intervene. In countries where active euthanasia is permitted, this intervention takes the form of the doctor administering a lethal injection. The Marris bill does not provide for active euthanasia so we can expect to see cases like the one in Oregon where, after a man took the prescribed dose of lethal drugs, physical symptoms were so disturbing that his wife called 911. He was taken from his home to a hospital where he was revived.

5. Why shouldn’t people have the right to an assisted death?
• It is usually the “worried well” who favour assisted suicide – all the major disability organisations in this country oppose it because of the danger it would pose to vulnerable disabled people.
• There is abundant evidence that such laws lead to mistakes and abuses which can never be put right.
• Financially hard-pressed NHS trusts will be tempted to offer assisted death instead of costly treatment.
• As a society we have always been clear that suicide is not something to be encouraged. This law would change that, and in so doing would change something fundamental in the foundations of our society.

6. What is a Christian response?
• The Bible has always been clear that humans are made in the image of God, and to take a human life is a grave sin.
• These truths are also enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
• Jean Vanier points out that our value comes not from the quality of our life or our ability to be productive but from being loved by God.
• This law would damage both the protection for vulnerable individuals and the nature of our society.
• It is part of being human that we show compassion to people at the cost of some personal sacrifice, rather than viewing them as a burden.
• The only guaranteed safeguard to disabled people’s right to life is not to have an assisted dying law.

7. What can I do?
• Contact your MP ( Most of them have not yet decided how to vote. Your email might sway your MP.
• Join a protest outside the Houses of Parliament during Friday’s debate (see
• Pray. There is a battle for the heart of our country and we should be employing our spiritual weapon of prayer in the fight against evil.


Briefing on Rob Marris MP’s Assisted Dying Bill September 2015

This detailed briefing was written for and is reproduced here by kind permission

The proposed law
On 11th September 2015 the House of Commons will debate the Assisted Dying Bill, a private member’s bill put forward by Rob Marris, the MP for Wolverhampton South West. The bill, as drafted by Rt Hon Mr Marris, draws on earlier bills put forward by the Lords Falconer and Joffe.
Mr Marris’s bill provides for competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life. The remit of the bill is strictly limited:
1 Assisted dying
(1) Subject to the consent of the High Court (Family Division) pursuant to
subsection (2), a person who is terminally ill may request and lawfully be
provided with assistance to end his or her own life.
(2) Subsection (1) applies only if the High Court (Family Division), by order,
confirms that it is satisfied that the person—
(a) has a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his or her own
(b) has made a declaration to that effect in accordance with section 3; and
(c) on the day the declaration is made—
(i) is aged 18 or over;
(ii) has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life;
(iii) has been ordinarily resident in England and Wales for not less
than one year.” [1]
Having set out the remit of the bill, the next section defines some of the terms used:
2 Terminal illness
(1) For the purposes of this Act, a person is terminally ill if that person—
(a) has been diagnosed by a registered medical practitioner as having an
inevitably progressive condition which cannot be reversed by
treatment (“a terminal illness”); and
(b) as a consequence of that terminal illness, is reasonably expected to die
within six months.
(2) Treatment which only relieves the symptoms of an inevitably progressive
condition temporarily is not to be regarded as treatment which can reverse
that condition.” [2]
Once a declaration has been made by someone to request assisted suicide, the declaration must be countersigned by the attending doctor who knows the patient and is familiar with their condition, and by an independent doctor who is unconnected with either the case or the attending physician. Both of these doctors must be satisfied that the person making the request is terminally ill, has the capacity to make the decision to end their own life, and has a clear and settled intention to end their own life which has been reached voluntarily, on an informed basis and without coercion or duress. [3]
In addition, in deciding whether to countersign a declaration under subsection (3), the attending doctor and the independent doctor must be satisfied that the person making it has been fully informed of the palliative, hospice and other care which is available to that person. The doctors are empowered by the bill to refer the patient to a specialist, should they suspect that the patient lacks the capacity to make a competent decision. [4]
Provision is made for the patient to revoke the declaration at any time, and this revocation must be implemented whether or not it is made in writing. Where the patient does not revoke the declaration, they will be given the lethal medication and any medical devices they might need with which to administer it, and it is then up to the patient to take the medication and end their own life. The bill does not provide for the physician to administer the lethal medication; only the patient is authorised to administer it to him/herself. The doctor is required to remain with the patient until the medication has been taken and the patient has died, or until the patient has decided not to take the medication. However, “remain with” can be interpreted as being somewhere in the vicinity, not necessarily at the patient’s bedside or even in the same room.[5] No medical practitioner can be obliged to assist a death if their conscience precludes them from doing so.
The remainder of the bill deals with practical matters such as how the medications should be safely stored, transported and delivered, what should be inscribed as cause of death on the death certificate (“assisted death”), what codes of practice and monitoring should be associated with the proposed new law and what constitutes an offence.
It would be an offence, under this law, to make a false declaration purporting to be by someone else, or to conceal a declaration in which someone had requested an assisted suicide, or to provide a false or misleading medical opinion in respect of such a declaration. [6]
Where a false declaration is made purporting to be by someone else with the intention of bringing about that person’s death, the offence would be punishable by life imprisonment. All other offences under this law would be subject to fines or terms of imprisonment of between six months and five years maximum.
Any reasonable person reading this might conclude that the remit of the bill is very narrow, the safeguards extensive, and the exclusion on conscience grounds fair and just. The questions remain, would there be any danger of the remit being extended, and are the safeguards adequate? The bill, as drafted, presupposes that assisted suicide is a tidy and effective solution; but is that assumption underpinned by good evidence?
To answer these questions, we can look at other places where similar laws have been enacted.

The situation in Holland
Euthanasia remains illegal in Holland even today. But since 2001 it has been decriminalised for the medics who practise it (and even before that the practice was to overlook it) provided certain criteria are observed. The person requesting it must be conscious, mentally competent and in unbearable pain. The request must be voluntary and made or reiterated after all other palliative options have been explained and the patient given time to consider them. More than one person must be involved in the decision, and there must be no other solution to the unbearable pain.[7] The fact that a patient had received euthanasia must be promptly reported to the proper authorities by the physician.
These terms sound very narrow. But in the thirty-four years since they were set out by a Rotterdam court they have been interpreted in ever-broader ways. “Unbearable pain” was only ever intended to refer to physical pain, but it has now been extended to include “psychic suffering” and “the potential disfigurement of personality”. [8]
Euthanasia was explicitly specified in the ruling to be voluntary. And yet in the ten years following this ruling, the following instances of euthanasia were recorded in Holland:
• 2,300 people died as the result of doctors killing them upon request .[9]
• 400 people died as a result of doctors providing them with the means to kill themselves. [10]
• 1,040 people died from involuntary euthanasia, meaning that doctors actively killed these patients without the patients’ knowledge or consent. [11]
• 14% of these patients were fully competent. [12]
• 72% had never given any indication that they would want their lives terminated. [13]
• In 8% of the cases, doctors performed involuntary euthanasia despite the fact that they believed alternative options were still possible. [14]
• In addition, 8,100 patients died as a result of doctors deliberately giving them overdoses of pain medication, not for the primary purpose of controlling pain, but to hasten the patient’s death. [15]
• In 61% of these cases (4,941 patients), the intentional overdose was given without the patient’s consent. [16]
(statistics and references from
These figures exclude thousands of other cases, also reported in the study, in which life-sustaining treatment was withheld or withdrawn without the patient’s consent and with the intention of causing the patient’s death. [17]
A further study of the Dutch model has also confirmed what many suspected to be the case, that where euthanasia is legal and state-funded, investment in good palliative care facilities diminishes. [18]
In addition to these known euthanasia deaths, there is evidence of Dutch doctors falsifying death certificates to indicate that deaths were natural rather than assisted, making it almost impossible to judge the true figures for deaths from euthanasia. [19]
The current position on euthanasia in Holland is that recorded euthanasia deaths since 2006 have been rising by around 15% per year. Around 20% of requests are refused and 38% carried out. Of the remainder, some are withdrawn and some patients die while the requests are still being considered or the arrangements made. [20]
In July 1992, the Dutch Paediatric Association issued guidelines to allow doctors to estimate what a disabled newborn’s quality of life was likely to be and, if below a certain level, to kill the infant.[21] What is certain is that today 3% of all deaths in Holland result from euthanasia, and some estimates put unreported cases at more than 12%, since official figures do not include deaths by terminal sedation, where patients are rendered unconscious before food and fluids are withdrawn, an act often referred to as ‘euthanasia by omission’.[22] Initially, only 10% of requests for euthanasia were for reasons other than terminal cancer, but that figure has now increased to 25%. [23]
Dr Theo Boer, who teaches ethics at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen and spent nine years on one of the regional euthanasia evaluation committees, believes that euthanasia, which was originally introduced to protect doctors, quickly came to be regarded as a patient’s right. “The debate has changed. Euthanasia is no longer a last resort. It was originally seen as a law that gave doctors rights rather than patients. But we very frequently hear it discussed in terms of a patient’s right to euthanasia.”[24] For example, a businessman who becomes bankrupt could argue that his financial situation is causing him unbearable pain and could request euthanasia as a result.[25] Euthanasia, originally available only to competent adults, is now available to children from aged 12 with parental consent, and from age 16 with parental involvement in the discussion, but not necessarily their consent. There are people in Holland calling for it to be extended to children under 12.
Dr Boer fears that before long euthanasia will come to be seen as the right of anyone over 70, no questions asked, and that there is a growing phenomenon of “duo-euthanasia” where the partner of a terminally ill patient asks to die with them because they cannot face the thought of life after the person has gone.[26]
There has even been one case of an eighty year old woman whose family requested assisted dying for her, but doctors refused on the grounds that she lacked the mental capacity to take the decision herself. The woman’s GP, the management of her care home, and her psychologist all supported this decision and requested an independent report into her condition. A judge sitting in emergency session overruled them all, and she was killed by a lethal injection the next day.[27]

The situation in Oregon
In the US state of Oregon, physician-assisted suicide has been legally permitted since 1994. This law allows terminally ill adult Oregonians to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered, lethal doses of medications.[28] Since then, the number of such prescriptions issued has risen from 24 in 1998 to 122 in 2013, and the number of those prescriptions actually used to procure deaths has increased from 16 in 1998 to 71 in 2013. Between 1997 and 2013 there were 752 such deaths in the State of Oregon.[29] The majority of these patients had cancer, were over 65 and died at home, although some were as young as 42.[30]
These figures show show that once assisted dying is permitted for the very few to whom it might be seen as desirable, it is only a matter of time before the numbers escalate. In addition, since the law permits these lethal drugs to be self-administered without the oversight of a doctor, there is absolutely no way of telling how many people make a free choice to end their lives in this way versus the number for whom this is an additional means of elder-abuse.
If such a possibility seems repugnant or far-fetched to most of us, it’s worth considering the experience of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a palliative care consultant and president of the British Medical Association, in the UK:
Jenny (not her real name) was a week or so short of her sixtieth birthday when she came into the hospice. She had advanced cancer and she, and her family, knew the end was close. And her family were devoted. Not a day went by without one or more of them at her bedside.
We stabilised Jenny’s condition; she was comfortable, more independent and able to have quality time with her family. And, as often happens with good palliative care, the prospect of her imminent death receded. Then came her birthday. It was a muted affair, but understandably so as it was clearly her last.
But then the family visits gradually fell away. ‘It’s a pity your family can’t come so often these days,’ one of the nurses said to Jenny. ‘Oh,’ she replied. ‘They won’t be in so much now. You see, my fixed-term life insurance expired on my birthday.’
This isn’t the only time I’ve been fooled. Most patients’ families are loving and caring. But sadly some are not, and they are not the rare exception.” [31]
Most of the assisted deaths in Oregon are of white, middle-class, retired people – precisely the ones whose heirs are likely to benefit substantially from their deaths. This immediately makes a whole class of older people extremely vulnerable, and there is little in Mr. Marris’s bill to prevent this kind of pressure being put on elderly people out of sight of the physician.
Moreover, in Oregon which does not have a UK-style National Health Service, there have been some well-publicised cases of health insurance companies offering patients euthanasia as an alternative to cancer treatment.[32] Here in the UK, where our hospitals are increasingly under financial pressure and some are close to financial collapse, the temptation to suggest, persuade or induce patients to accept an assisted suicide as an alternative to costly treatment is immediately evident. Only the most naïve person would tell himself that this will not happen if this law is passed. Already in the UK, healthy young people with a normal life expectancy are regularly told that it is an NHS requirement that at every annual review they should be invited to have “Do Not Resuscitate” written on their medical notes simply because they have a disability.[33] So we would be foolish to think that death would not be considered as a cost-cutting measure; clearly it already is.
One wife in Oregon describes taking her seriously ill husband to the doctor: “I collapsed in a half-exhausted heap in a chair once I got him into the doctor’s office, relieved that we were going to get badly needed help (or so I thought).
“To my surprise and horror, during the exam I overheard the doctor giving my husband a sales pitch for assisted suicide. ‘Think of what it will spare your wife, we need to think of her’ he said, as a clincher.
“Now, if the doctor had wanted to say ‘I don’t see any way I can help you, knowing what I know, and having the skills I have’ that would have been one thing. If he’d wanted to opine that certain treatments weren’t worth it as far as he could see, that would be one thing. But he was tempting my husband to commit suicide. And that is something different.
“I was indignant that the doctor was not only trying to decide what was best for David, but also what was supposedly best for me (without even consulting me, no less).” They changed doctor and her husband lived for a further five years. [34]
You might suppose that having a legal route to assisted suicide might decrease the general suicide rate among ill and depressed people, but no such effect has been observed either in Oregon or in Holland.
In Oregon, most assisted suicides are carried out by means of the drug Pentobarbitol, the same drug that is used in the USA for executions of prisoners sentenced to death. Because European countries object to the death penalty, they have stopped supplying the drug to the USA, where it is now almost impossible to get hold of. The main assisted suicide advocacy group which drafted the original law, Compassion and Choices, is proposing to have a pharmacy in Oregon licensed to manufacture the drug, which Compassion and Choices would then distribute to doctors for prescription to patients who have requested an assisted suicide. Thus the same company which drafted and promoted the assisted suicide bill is likely to be in the position of profiting financially from the distribution of the lethal drug – surely a position inherently open to abuse where it is in a company’s financial as well as ideological interest to continue to increase the number of assisted suicides. [35]
Although one of the criteria for eligibility is that the patient is expected to die within six months, figures from Oregon show that in 2013 eight patients died after taking lethal drugs prescribed for them in 2011 and 2012.[36] In other words, the estimate of less than six months life expectancy was wildly inaccurate in a significant number of cases.

The situation in Belgium
Belgium has the world’s most liberal laws on physician-assisted suicide. One need not be terminally ill, nor an adult, to qualify. More than 1800 Belgians chose to die by this method in 2013. Many of these were experiencing the kinds of depression and psychiatric illnesses which would be regarded as amenable to treatment in the UK. After performing euthanasia, a doctor is required to file a report to a Euthanasia Commission composed of eight lawyers and eight doctors, explaining what action (s)he took and why. The Commission reviews each case to ensure that it complied with the law and if not, potentially the physician could be subject to a charge of homicide.[37] However, all that is required is a piece of paper containing the patient’s name and signature, the date and the words, “I want euthanasia”. [38]
Tom Mortier, whose severely depressed mother died by euthanasia, unbeknown to her family, in a Brussels hospital, is challenging Belgium’s euthanasia law in the European Court of Human Rights. He says that part of the cause of her depression was her estrangement from her son, and that had an attempt been made to contact him and put him back in touch with her, she would probably not have opted for euthanasia. His lawyer points out that she was offered death rather than treatment.[39]
The original law passed in 2002 provides that the person requesting euthanasia must be an adult, making a voluntary, well considered and oft-repeated request which does not result from external pressure and is in “a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that can not be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.” [40]
From this it can be seen that a huge leap has been taken from people whose cases are “medically futile” and “incurable” to a woman who is depressed over her family breakdown and is offered death in preference to treatment. Nor did the Belgian law stop there. In 2014 it was amended to extend the right to euthanasia to children. In the four years to 2013 the number of people dying by euthanasia increased by 89% and now represents 1.7% of all Belgian deaths.[41]

The situation in Switzerland
Assisted suicide has been legally condoned in Switzerland since 1918, and does not have to be carried out by a doctor provided no self-interest is involved[42], but records are not available for the period prior to 1998. From 1998 to 2009 the numbers rose from 43 to 297 per year, with women accounting for 55% of cases.[43] By 2012 this figure had risen to 508.[44] (These figures only include Swiss nationals, and do not take account of foreigners, including one Briton per fortnight, coming to end their lives at the Dignitas clinic).[45]
The law permits anyone to provide someone with the means to commit suicide but stops short of allowing a doctor to carry out euthanasia on a patient. In principle Swiss law provides for an assisted suicide only if the person has a terminal illness, but there have been reports of assisted deaths in the Dignitas clinic of people whose clinical diagnosis was depression.

Ethical gradualism
I have not been able to find one solitary example of a country where assisted dying has been legalised in which this has not opened a floodgate to an ever-rising tide of deaths from this cause. No matter what safeguards have been put in place, a gradual erosion of ethical standards has taken place resulting in constant widening of the eligibility criteria for an assisted death. In the majority of cases this has taken place not by enacting new laws but simply by stretching the definitions of the terms included in the existing laws.
There are other concerns regarding a gradual slide in ethical standards. The case of Compassion and Choice profiting from the sale and distribution of lethal drugs while it pushes a pro-euthanasia agenda on the public should give us pause. We already know that in the UK drug companies offer inducements to NHS personnel in the hope of increasing sales of their drugs. In fact, in 2013 an undercover investigation found that dozens of NHS officials in control of medicines budgets were being paid thousands of pounds by drug companies.[46] The potential for a profitable and persuasive euthanasia industry to spring up as has happened with the abortion industry in this country means that many of the safeguards in Mr Marris’s bill would not be worth the paper they are written on.
Already the debate in this country has progressed beyond the right to die, to the duty to die. In 2008 Baroness Warnock, arguably our leading moral philosopher, surprised many people when she asserted that pensioners in mental decline who require a lot of care are “wasting people’s lives” and should be allowed to opt for euthanasia even where they are not suffering pain. She saw nothing wrong with people being assisted to die for the sake of their loved ones and of society, and said that she hoped people would soon be “licensed to put others down” where those others were no longer able to look after themselves. Her comments related particularly to dementia sufferers, of whom she said, “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service…. Actually I’ve just written an article called ‘A Duty to Die?’ for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself.”[47] With such views informing the public debate, it is in vain to hope that we alone of all the countries who have tried it would be able to contain the effects of an assisted dying law within its original narrow confines. Parents like myself, who have disabled sons and daughters lacking the mental capacity to take their own decisions in these matters have real reason to fear for our youngsters’ safety once we are no longer here to fight for them.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it is mainly the “worried well” who support this law, those who have not personally experienced a life-threatening condition and fear that if it happened they could not endure it. By contrast, this bill is opposed by all the UK’s major disability organisations, which represent those who have experience of pain, weakness and limitation and have found the joy of living nonetheless.

The efficacy of assisted suicide
According to a BBC report[48], attempts at assisted suicide fail to lead to an easy death in almost one in five cases. There is evidence from Holland and Oregon of supposedly fatal doses leading to nothing other than gasping, vomiting and comas from which the patient later recovered. The report quotes Dutch doctor Johanna Groenewoud: “Patients who wish to receive help in dying face a small but nevertheless worrisome possibility that some untoward event will prevent the accomplishment of their wish.” In 6% of cases, patients either experienced an unexpectedly lingering death or awoke from a coma that was supposed to have been fatal. 7% of cases led to technical complications or unanticipated side effects, and problems were so frequent that doctors felt compelled to intervene in 18% of cases.
Another Dutch doctor, Pieter Admiraal, concurs with this view: “In spite of these measures, every doctor who decides to assist in suicide must be aware that something can go wrong, with the result being a failure of the suicide. For this reason, one should always be prepared to proceed to active euthanasia. In other words, the doctor should always have at hand thiopental and muscle relaxant.“[49] Since the proposed UK law provides only for assisted suicide and precludes active euthanasia, it is clear that a significant number of cases – possibly as high as 18% – would turn out to be failed suicides. This is quite apart from the case of patients who lack the physical capacity to end their own lives, even with assistance, as was the conclusion of a study by scientists from the Netherlands: “...if physician-assisted suicide is legalised but euthanasia is not, some competent patients may not be able to end their own lives for purely physical reasons, as in the case of patients with neurologic illnesses who have problems with swallowing or using their hands and patients who are physically too weak to take all the oral medication themselves.” [50]
If problems of this magnitude were known to be associated with any normal medical procedure, I am fairly sure it would have been widely reported in the press and patients would be wary of the procedure. In one case in Oregon, after a man took the prescribed dose of lethal drugs, physical symptoms were so disturbing that his wife called 911. He was taken from his home to a hospital where he was revived.[51] Yet I have never heard these risks mentioned by proponents of assisted suicide.

The arguments against assisted death
As mentioned above, it is generally the “worried well” who favour assisted suicide, armed with a scant handful of stories of extreme cases. Meanwhile, people with experience of the daily discomfort of limiting physical conditions fear any relaxation in the laws designed to protect them when they are at their most vulnerable. Debbie Purdy brought a case to Court to be allowed an assisted death before her symptoms became unbearable, something the court was unable to allow. Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE puts his finger on why this was the right decision:
I met and debated with Debbie Purdy a couple of times and I thought she
was wrong – she made what is called a ‘category mistake’ –mixing up the category of one individual saying ‘I want to die now’ with the idea that such a wish must be enshrined in law. Individual wishes are just that – individual. Laws cover every citizen of a state or jurisdiction in which they are passed – which means they are a whole different category. It was her campaigning for this category mistake to be legalised that brought us into opposition.” [52]
In the same article, Dr Fitzpatrick makes the point that three prominent campaigners for assisted death, all of whom were terminally ill themselves, have recently died a good death, peacefully, in palliative care or hospice settings, proving that there is no need for the change in the law for which they campaigned, nor for the fear which prompted their campaigns.[53]
One compelling argument against physician-assisted dying is that it changes the fundamental relationship of trust between doctor and patient. The one essential thing which has always distinguished the medical physician, bound by the Hippocratic Oath, from the quack and the Shaman, is the absolute undertaking to use their powers only to heal and never to do harm. Assisted dying immediately destroys this foundational principle. If we think it might have little effect in practice, we need only look, once again, to Holland, where over 10,000 people carry “anti euthanasia passports” because they are afraid of being killed without their consent. [54]
Another supporter of these arguments is Liz Carr, the actress and comedian. She begins her article by stating, “I’m not religious, I’m not anti-choice and yet I, along with many other disabled people who are involved in the international organisation Not Dead Yet, oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide.”[55] Ms Carr goes on to explain her view that Mr Marris’s bill, if passed, would lead to some people’s lives being ended, without their consent, through mistakes or abuse which could never be undone. She maintains that we should have not an assisted dying bill but an assisted living bill. And she rightly reminds us that the only effective safeguard that has ever been found against such mistakes and abuses is not to have an assisted dying bill.
Pointing out that The British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, General Practitioners and Surgeons, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society all oppose this bill, she asks, “Against a backdrop of longer shifts, difficulty in obtaining appointments and the rationing of certain treatments, should we really be pushing further pressures onto our reluctant doctors?” [56]
Disputing that this bill would lead to greater choice, she reminds us that many people who wish for a hospice place or to die at home are denied their wish, and more people die in hospital in the UK than in most other European countries. She therefore suggests that we should do more to give people the natural death they wish for before we start ploughing our resources into ending their lives instead. Her final and most compelling point is that safety of the many must take precedence over the wishes of the few.
Those who advocate assisted dying usually see the issues as ones of autonomy and control. We ought to have the right to decide what we want to happen at the end of our life, and we ought to have the right not to be subject to circumstances beyond our control. The majority of those who speak like this are speaking hypothetically, without experience of what the end of life is actually like. Baroness Finlay, on the other hand, has spent her entire career at the side of those who are dying, and this is what she has to say:
Laws on ‘assisted dying’, like the one tabled by Lord Falconer and debated last year in Britain’s House of Lords, are written as if everyone is a strong-minded, no-nonsense individual and never susceptible to depression or influence or doubt. But I must tell you, most patients facing an approaching death just aren’t like that. They are struggling to come to terms with their mortality, veering between hope and despair and back again, worried about the impact of their illness on those around them and trying to make sense of what is happening to them. In a word, they become vulnerable.”[57] She goes on to emphasise that many people who support assisted dying lack the imagination to project themselves into a situation where they might be, for example, tempted to coerce someone for unscrupulous reasons.
Baroness Finlay has abundant experience on which to draw; she has had plenty of encounters with terminally ill patients who thought they wanted to die, who would have met the criterion of having a “settled intent” to die, but with the right care and attention recovered their zest for life.
Finally, she makes the powerful point that laws are not simply instruments of regulation: “They send social messages. As a society we are clear that suicide is not something to be encouraged or assisted. Legalising assisted suicide flies in the face of that. It sends the message that, if you are terminally ill, ending your life is something that society endorses and that you might want to consider.” [58] And she concludes by asking if that is the kind of society we really want to live in.

A Christian response
It has always been a Biblical principle that all people are made in the image of God. In the Old Testament murder was seen as a more serious crime than any other not merely because of its far-reaching consequences but because the gravity of taking a life had a spiritual quality to it – in some way it polluted the land (some translations say made the land unholy). There was something sacred inherent in being human. [59]
To the six million Roman Catholics living in the UK, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks unequivocally on this topic:
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the creator, who is its end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” [60]
“Human life must be protected and respected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” [61]
Jean Vanier affirms that what makes us human is not our productivity or our self-sufficiency but our capacity to be loved – by other people of course, but above all by God. He applies this specifically to people with profound disabilities, the very ones whom this proposed law would endanger: “People with disabilities are so different from one another. What is absolutely certain is that their fundamental need is to be loved, and to enter into relationships…. But what is the most important is this incredible capacity for friendship and love, and the way they can throw themselves into our arms and be as they are, simple and loving.” [62]
The Church of England’s national director on medical ethics, Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy has put out a very helpful analysis of the proposed law from a Christian point of view.[63]  Like Baroness Finlay, he believes that this change in the law would damage both the protection for vulnerable individuals and the nature of our society. He emphasises that even when people have lost the sense of the value of their own lives, this does not diminish the intrinsic value that they have as a human person. This is a principle fundamentally embedded in our laws, and to alter it would alter the very values on which our society is built.
The fact that at times these people might need to be cared for at the cost to others of some sacrifice is simply a manifestation of the compassionate nature that characterises us as humans. Dr McCarthy recognises the impotence of the safeguards in this law to prevent all abuse. Such safeguards have not prevented the escalation of incidences of assisted suicide in every other country where they were introduced to cater for the tiny minority who wished to benefit from them. Nor have they prevented those laws from being used to despatch inconvenient elderly or incapacitated people by those who stand to benefit from the death. He concludes by calling for us to put our energy and resources into best-quality palliative and end of life care.

What you can do
I attended a talk last Friday given by Fiona Bruce MP. She told her audience that many MPs simply do not have a view on assisted dying, and are waiting to see what representations they receive from their constituents. So one of the most influential things you can do is email your MP [64] and urge them to turn up for the debate on Friday and vote against the bill.
If you are of an activist bent, and you are able to get to London, Not Dead Yet are appealing for people to join their protest outside the House of Commons during the course of the debate. [65]
Finally, and most importantly, pray. A battle is going on for the heart of our nation, and as George Müller once said, “The greater the difficulty to be overcome, the more will it be seen to the glory of God how much can be done by prayer and faith.” [66]

[1], page 2
[2] Ibid., pages 1-2
[3] Ibid, page 2
[4] Ibid., page 3
[5] Ibid., page 4
[6] Ibid., page 7
[8] Ibid.
[9] Medical Decisions About the End of Life, I. Report of the Committee to Study the Medical Practice Concerning Euthanasia, The Hague, September 19, 1991
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] ibid
[13] Medical Decisions About the End of Life, II. Report of the Committee to Study the Medical Practice Concerning Euthanasia, The Hague, September 19, 1991, page 49, table 6.4
[14] Ibid, page 50, table 6.6
[15] Ibid., table 6.5
[16] Ibid., page 72
[17] Ibid.
[18] Euthanasia: Report of the Working Party to Review the British Medical Association’s Guidance on Euthanasia, British Medical Association, May 5, 1988, p. 49, no. 195.
Rita L. Marker, Deadly Compassion -The Death of Ann Humphry and the Truth About Euthanasia (New York; William Morrow and Company, 1993), p. 157
[19] I.J. Keown, “The Law and Practice of Euthanasia in The Netherlands,” The Law Quarterly Review (January 1992), pp. 67-68.
[21] Abner Katzman, “Dutch debate mercy killing of babies,” Contra Costa Times, 7/30/92, p. 3B.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[32] See Susan Donaldson James, “Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon,” ABC News, August 6, 2008, at:; “Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions,” KATU TV, July 30, 2008, at:; and Ken Stevens, MD, Letter to Editor, “Oregon mistake costs lives,” The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar, September 2011, to view, scroll down to bottom of second page here:
[36] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[42] Feuille fédérale 1918 IV/I(36). Berne: Center for Official Publications; 1918
[50] New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 342:551-556 February 24, 2000 Number 8
[51] Oregonian, 3/23/00
[53] Ibid.
[56] Ibid.
[58] Ibid.
[59] Numbers 35.33
[60] Catechism of the Catholic Church 2260
[61] Ibid. 2270
[64] Find the address at

Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?

(This piece was written for and is reproduced here by kind permission)

As you look back over our generation, whom would you list among the greatest Christians? Billy Graham? Matt Redman? Mother Teresa? Joni Eareckson Tada?

All these names are well-known, all are people who have dedicated their whole lives to the cause of Christ, and all have had an immense reach in terms of the numbers of lives they have touched with the love and grace of God.

But that’s not how Jesus measured greatness. Here’s what He had to say about it, when His disciples asked Him who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God: “Jesus called a little child to his side and set him on his feet in the middle of them all. ‘Believe me,’ he said, ‘unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.’” (Matthew 18. 2-4, JBP)

So, using Jesus’ measure of greatness, who would you put in your list? Here are my top two.

Aunty Nina 3.jpgThe first is an aunt-in-law of mine. She died last year at the age of 99, having lived all her life in the house in which she was born. As a young woman, her father decided that she would not marry, but would be the one to look after her parents in their old age, and therefore she was not allowed to have boyfriends. She did indeed care for her parents to the end of their lives, while also working in a clerical job. By the time her mother died a few days short of her 106th birthday, she herself was 73, still rising early every morning to take her mother breakfast in bed. I never once heard her complain about her lot in life. Instead of living with regrets of what might have been, she lavished affection on her nieces and nephews and later on their children, and threw herself into the Girl Guide movement, keeping herself young by sharing fun, high-jinks and her quiet but vibrant Christian faith with generations of teenage girls. She was and is my heroine.

GeorgeThe second is someone whom I have never met and had never heard of until last month. George is someone whom our mission team met in Eldoret, Kenya in May. George’s legs were amputated following an accident. He was fortunate enough to receive a wheelchair and so was able to continue working as a shoe seller. When he met a woman who had also had her legs amputated as a result of damage caused by diabetes, he considered her need greater than his own and gave away his wheelchair to her. From then on his journey to work consisted of dragging himself along the ground to the bus stop, crawling onto the bus which took him to work where he sat on the ground at his shoe stall, and then reversing the process in the evening. Our team was able to bless him with a new wheelchair and so his generosity to that lady was rewarded.

Both these people lived or live in a narrow circle of acquaintance. The world takes no notice of them and their sacrifice passes unobserved by most of the world. But God sees, and in His eyes they are among the greats, the giants of the kingdom of God. It’s people like this who set the bar for us as Christians – may we imitate their way of life and grow in Christ-likeness because of their example.