Letters - 30 January 2015

From assisted dying to Cathars and Quakers

Assisted dying

Nick Wilde’s letter (9 January) concerning ‘end of life issues’ advocates individual choice for assisted dying. This is not easy within the UK because of the 1961 Suicide Act, which makes it an offence to aid, abet or procure a suicide. The offence is punishable by up to fourteen years imprisonment.

A Law Lords’ ruling in 2009 required the then director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to clarify his opaque prosecution policy. He responded by publishing guidelines that did little more than prolong the current unregulated mess. During Charles Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying in 2011, he refused to be drawn on the need for primary parliamentary legislation. In my opinion, advocating it would have made his previous years as the director of public prosecution questionable.

It emerged during the Commission that there were, at that time, a number of people being held on bail pending possible prosecution under the 1961 Act. I was one of those and my letter to the Commission, number 618, shows what can happen to ordinary, private individuals who become victims of establishment inertia and lack of moral character.

Another attempt is being made in parliament to introduce assisted dying. It is unlikely to succeed, especially in an election year. Driven as they are, the primary aim of politicians is to gain power by winning elections. Moral probity, and in this case democracy, is secondary for them.

Barrie M Sheldon


Kate Mellor’s ‘sermon’ on Quakerism (16 January) will be so useful in conversations with non-Quakers. We have some excellent leaflets for questioners but this article gives us a succinct, overall picture.

There’s one question, however, that doesn’t seem to feature much (if at all?) in leaflets and wasn’t in Kate’s piece – ‘Why do you call yourself “Friends”?’ This question tends to lead into remarks that other religions, as well as nonreligious organisations, generally include ‘friendship’ as a main characteristic. So, what’s the big deal for Quakers in calling themselves ‘Friends’? I explain how, in the seventeenth century, George Fox originally formed a group called ‘The Friends in/of Truth’; that this related to Jesus’ saying: ‘You are my friends if you do whatever I command’ (John 15: 12-15.) and that, later on, early Quakers became known as ‘The Society of Friends’. From what I understand, dropping ‘in/of Truth’ seems to have been an abbreviation.

Nowadays, both outside and within ‘The Religious Society of Friends’, it seems that the meaning of ‘Friends’ (capital ‘F’) is frequently seen as synonymous with ‘friends’ (small ‘f’). This can confuse enquirers. So, would it not clarify ‘outreach’ to be explicit about why Quakers were originally called ‘Friends’ and why we still retain this title? It may also make things clearer if we mention that ‘Friends’ has nothing to do with being ‘friends’, in the social meaning of that word.

Audrey Chamberlain

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