The Bill, to be introduced in the Commons in January, is the sixth attempt to legalise assisted suicide in a decade

The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain has reminded the Bishops of England and Wales of Lord Falconer’s forthcoming assisted suicide Bill, urging them to defend “the rights and dignity of every person… until the moment of natural death”.

Addressing the plenary meeting of bishops in Leeds this week, Archbishop Antonio Mennini said: “Thinking about the poor and most vulnerable, it is not inappropriate to mention that an attempt is to be made by Lord Falconer in January next year to bring back to the House of Lords yet another Bill to legalise assisted suicide. We know well that we have a duty in love to emphasise yet again the rights and dignity of every human person, from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death.”

Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s draft Bill, which is yet to have its first reading, was introduced in the House of Lords in July and is the sixth attempt to legalise assisted suicide in 10 years.

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Lord Falconer has described the current law on assisted suicide as a “disgraceful mess”, and tried to relax the law via the Coroners and Justice Bill in 2009. The last attempt to legalise assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia was defeated in May 2006.

Archbishop Mennini also called on the bishops to fight Government attempts to change the definition of marriage by following the example of the hierarchy in France.

He said: “We find that we are placed in a similar situation to the Church in France, where Cardinal [André] Vingt-Trois and the French bishops have issued a spirited appeal to the faithful asking them to do all in their power to resist so-called ‘same-sex marriage’. We surely can do no less and I thank all of you for your strong testimony.”

In France Archbishop Vingt-Trois has called gay marriage “a fraud” and said: “It will not be a ‘marriage for all’. It will be marriage of a few imposed on all.”

Cardinal Vingt-Trois has accused the government of trying to rush through gay marriage without a debate in French society about its implications, especially for children who would grow up without a clearly identified mother and father.

He said: “Has it asked citizens if they agreed to no longer be the father or mother of their child, but only an undifferentiated ‘parent A’, or ‘parent B’?”

The French bishops have also reinstated the traditional “prayer for France” in response to “grave” social changes, and Pope Benedict XVI has urged French bishops to defend marriage as the “foundation of social life”.

In Britain the Coalition Government introduced its consultation in March, although ministers have said they intend to go ahead with the move “with or without” Christian support. Gay marriage is supported by all four parliamentary parties in England, although opinion polls suggest that the public is evenly split. Last month the Prime Minister told his ministers to “prioritise” gay marriage despite backbench opposition.

Archbishop Mennini told the bishops of England and Wales: “On looking at your programme I see that once again you continue considering how best to present the teaching of the Gospel on the Sacrament of Marriage and how to defend family life.

“In that same homily, addressed to the Synod Fathers, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed: ‘That matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianised world… There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelisation. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realisation is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.’

“Why this insistence? We don’t want to quarrel and we know that it is not easy to obtain changes in the direction of governmental policies about the family or about life. We all know that we are swimming against the tide,” the nuncio said.

“But we must not be afraid because we are confident that Our Lord continues to love and support his Church. Our people need us to witness to a new way of judging the situations of our world.

“One of our first tasks is to educate our Christian people in a new way of judging the matters of this world, even when our witness may not be wholly accepted or completely successful.”

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