The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has changed his mind about ‘assisted dying’ and intends to vote for Lord Falconer’s Bill, which will be debated in Parliament next week. His article in today’s Daily Mail is a tremendous coup for the Dignity in Dying lobby.

When Carey was in office, no one paid much attention to his views. He lumbered from one gaffe to another; we religious correspondents were too amused by his self-importance to notice that he tended to get his way – for example, over women priests in 1992. Since retirement, his stature has grown. He has become more right-wing. He is contemptuous of the bishops’ fear of offending Muslims at a time when Islamists are torching churches; he gives an establishment voice to African evangelicals disgusted by gay marriage.

In short, he’s the Pope Emeritus of conservative Anglicans all over the world. They will be surprised to read about his support for (as he puts it) ‘the proposed new law [that] would enable doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who have stated a clearly expressed intention to end their lives.’

Lord Carey says that until recently he would have fiercely opposed Falconer’s Bill: ‘I would have paraded all the usual concerns about the risks of “slippery slopes” and “state-sponsored euthanasia”. But those arguments that persuaded me in the past seem to lack power and authority now when confronted with the experiences of those suffering a painful death.’

He doesn’t explain how the law can distinguish between, on the one hand, the merciful curtailment of agony and, on the other, the bullying of old people by legacy-hunting relatives who are chiefly interested in curtailing care home bills. But the British public doesn’t seem troubled by such niceties. According to YouGov, only 13 per cent of us oppose a change in the law. (In old age Carey has developed a nose for popular causes, which makes his volte-face less surprising.)

I wonder what Justin Welby – who opposes assisted dying – will make of this intervention on the first day of General Synod. Carey is challenging the authority of the current Archbishop of Canterbury just as the latter is getting ready to plead with traditionalists to stay in the C of E despite the expected vote for women bishops. But undermining his successors has never bothered Lord Carey of Clifton. Just ask Rowan Williams.

Tags: Assisted dying, Lord Carey