Following the moral compass

Robyn Whitaker, Jason Goroncy, Brendan Byrne, Derek McDougall, Daniel Farnsworth, Claire Dawe and Susan Malthouse-Law

Robyn Whitaker, Jason Goroncy, Brendan Byrne, Derek McDougall, Daniel Farnsworth, Claire Dawe and Susan Malthouse-Law.

The new Synod Ethics Committee has met to consider the Uniting Church’s response to voluntary assisted dying.

Last November, Victoria became the first state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying, with the law coming into effect in June next year.

The VicTas synod currently does not have a position on voluntary assisted dying. At the September meeting, the committee considered three potential responses to the new legislation.

The first was that the Uniting Church refuses or conscientiously objects to the legislation and does not implement it in any of its facilities.

Alternatively, the church wholeheartedly embraces the legislation and strives to make it available as widely as possible.

The third option was that the Uniting Church does not take a single official position and allows agencies, institutions and individual practitioners to determine their own response.

Ethics committee member Rev Dr Robyn Whitaker said the committee’s work involved identifying the “messy and complicated” theological issues that arose from these responses.

“We need to affirm as Christians that all life is valuable no matter how capable or active someone is or what state they find themselves in,” Robyn said.

“At the same time, we need to balance that with the Christian belief in the resurrection – that death itself is not something to be feared and avoided at all costs and how we best care for people in a loving manner.”

The committee meets once a month and liaises with the synod’s Justice and International Mission cluster.

Last year, JIM invited congregation members to submit their views on voluntary assisted dying. 

The synod has also engaged Dr Jessica Hateley-Browne from the Centre for Evidence and Implementation to undertake a research project on the church’s response to the legislation.

The consultation will involve a number of church bodies, including the Synod Ethics Committee, Uniting AgeWell, Uniting VicTas, Pilgrim Theological College and the Assembly Standing Committee.

Synod Ethics Committee chair Claire Dawe said the committee wouldn’t just be focusing on voluntary assisted dying.

“We also look ahead to see what other ethical issues are coming up and be ahead of the game,” she said.

The previous bioethics committee focused primarily on biomedical issues, such as abortion, cloning and IVF.

Robyn said the brief of the new synod ethics committee was much broader.

“We’re specifically called an ethics committee, which means other environmental concerns might be on the agenda,” she said.

“It can include climate change, economic issues and all sorts of ethical issues in our world.

“We hope to offer a fairly regularly column in Crosslight that will offer an ethical reflection or thought to foster wider conversation in the church.”

Daniel Farnsworth, Derek McDougall, Robyn Whitaker, Jason Goroncy, Brendan Byrne, Susan Malthouse-Law, Claire Dawe and Chris Dalton are the members of the Synod Ethics Committee.

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