Representatives of the signatory faith groups, including Victorian Council of Churches (VCC) President Bishop Peter Danaher, gathered on the steps of parliament on Wednesday afternoon where the statement was read out and handed to Mr Merlino.
“We are of different faiths but, in our diverse communities, we believe in compassion,” the statement says.
“Compassion is best addressed to the alleviation of suffering and the care for life, which our traditions deem precious. We are concerned that deliberate interventions to end life tear at the fabric of our society.
“We urge, for the good of the entire community, that the Government extend access to palliative care to all Victorians who need it. We ask this Parliament to reject this Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017.”
Mr Merlino has been an outspoken opponent of the Bill, which is set to be debated in parliament next week and will be a conscience vote across party lines.
He thanked the group and said that he reckoned such a unified multi-faith representation would be “unprecedented”.
“It’s important we hear from all parts of society as part of this debate,” Mr Merlino said.
“So for different faith communities to come together in such a strong way, I will make sure all my colleagues in the parliament will be aware of this I will distribute this statement to everyone.”
Mr Merlino said he agreed with the statement’s call for more comprehensive palliative care and said “that was the answer”, citing support from medical groups.
“We’ve heard from the Australian Medical Association, who is opposed to this legislation,” he said.
“We’ve heard from Palliative Care Victoria the men and women who care for Victorians at the end stage of their lives they are opposed to this legislation.”
Bishop Suriel Anbu, from the Coptic Church of Melbourne and Victoria, stressed that the unity being shown on this issue by Christian churches and other faiths was “really unprecedented”.
“We would represent a majority of Victorians and we hope that the Parliament really take this thing seriously,” he said.
Despite being a member of the VCC, the Uniting Church is not party to the statement.
The Synod meeting earlier this year resolved that if the Bill was introduced to Parliament there would be wide consultation to form a response in the event of it being passed.
“The position of the Synod is that we neither support nor oppose voluntary assisted dying,” Moderator Sharon Hollis said.
“We are currently in a period of consultation about this issue and will develop a position in the coming months, including how Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting AgeWell might respond.”
The Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit has released a discussion paper to inform and guide that consultation.
Church members are encouraged to make their submissions to the JIM unit before Friday 20 October 2017.
Submissions can be sent to: End of Life Options Submission, c/- Justice and International Mission Unit Uniting Church Synod Centre, 130 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Presbyteries, congregations and small groups can arrange a meeting with JIM staff to discuss views on the issues raised by the paper by call (03) 9251 5271 or emailing email@example.com