Society has historically viewed suicide with hostility and fear. For centuries this hostility was reflected in the English civil law, which condemned suicide as homicide, and in the Church's position towards suicide victims, which historically considered suicide to be a mortal sin. Under the current canon law, set out in Canon B 38, it is the duty of the minister to bury all parishioners, those who die in the parish, or those entered on the electoral roll of the parish according to the rites of the Church of England, except for (among others) those who ‘being of sound mind have laid violent hands upon themselves’. This canon has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as society's attitudes towards suicide have become more tolerant. As a result, General Synod recently voted that this canon should be amended. This article explores the development of the law relating to suicide victims in order to understand the Church's current position. It then considers the shortcomings of the current canon law and reviews the position adopted by the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches. Finally, it examines the proposals for changing Canon B 38.
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