The euthanasia divide among people of faith

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The Victorian state parliament will vote on voluntary euthanasia laws next year.
Announcing the decision on Thursday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that physician-assisted dying was a difficult question that the parliament will soon be debating.

The new law will build on the findings of a report received by the Andrews Government in June this year. The 450-page report, Inquiry into end of life choices, proposed a series of recommendations developed after extensive community consultation throughout Victoria and internationally.

The cross-party committee met with palliative care volunteers from places such as Geelong, Hamilton, Shepparton and Gippsland to hear first-hand the issues people face as they near the end of their lives.

They also travelled to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and the state of Oregon in the USA, jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying. Committee members met with regulators, health care workers, as well as supporters and opponents of assisted dying to determine the impact of such laws.

Committee chair, Edward O’Donohue, said they were aware of the ‘slippery slope’ concerns often touted by opponents of assisted dying. Mr O’Donohue said that while the jurisdictions visited differed in their legislation, they all shared a “robust regulatory framework that focus on transparency, patient-centred care and choice”.

Speaking on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, Father Tony Kerin, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, said the Catholic Church could not sanction physician-assisted dying and suggested such a law showed a lack of confidence in Victoria’s health system.

“I think that’s because we’re trying to medicalise this situation,” Father Kerin said.

“It’s not really a medical problem, it’s a social problem. It’s about loneliness, it’s about feeling unsupported, it’s about feeling unconnected.”

Julie Morgan is a lecturer in ethical leadership and organisational development at the Australian Catholic University. Ms Morgan has terminal cancer and feels assisted dying legislation will compel people in her situation to end their life rather than be a burden on their loved ones.

Speaking to The Age on Friday, Ms Morgan echoed the concerns of Father Kerin.

“I want someone to be stroking my arm, telling me that I’m loved,” she said. “I don’t want to feel like I have to go.”

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has issued a statement reflecting the ‘slippery slope’ concerns.

“While the ACL understands and shares the desire to see people relieved of their pain, this can be achieved by taking advantage of the tremendous medical advances in palliative care,” ACL Victorian director Dan Flynn said.

“There are so many examples around the world which show that providing the ability to suicide puts undue pressure on vulnerable people such as those with disabilities, the very young or older citizens.”

The ACL also claims the legislation is unpopular with the majority of voters and is being debated in parliament in a non-election year to “avoid a conservative backlash, satisfy the radical left and neutralise the Greens on the issue.”

Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia is an Australian advocacy group made up of people from the Uniting, Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, Unitarian and Catholic denominations.

In a 2015 submission to the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry onto end-of-life choices, the group stated one of its aims was: “To make politicians aware that a majority of Christians in Australia support choice for voluntary euthanasia, holding it to be consistent with Jesus’ message of love and compassion.”

The group is concerned that the views of conservative Christians will dominate the debate, and claims these views are actually in the minority. They hope to “counter any mis-information put forward by religious opposition to every person’s right to a dignified and pain-free death”.

The submission cites a 2012  Newspoll on end-of-life choices that found 82.5 per cent of people supported such legislation. The same poll found that nine out of 10 Australian Anglicans, more than three out of four Catholics, and nearly all Australian atheists advocate assisted dying law reform.

“Religious hierarchy who comprise an organised opposition to law reform do not represent the views of the majority of their flocks” the submission states.

The submission quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking in support of assisted dying: “I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying. I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost.”

What is the Christian way to think about this issue?

Image: Alberto Biscalchin/Flickr

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