Dying Peacefully – No Euthanasia Message

By | November 19, 2019


Recently in parishes across the
Archdiocese of Brisbane we observed what we called
“Dying Peacefully – No Euthanasia” Sunday. Drawing attention to the issue of
voluntary assisted dying and euthanasia which is being debated in so many ways,
right across the country at this time. Now the church is not the only voice
in the discussion, and we certainly don’t impute bad faith
or evil intent of any kind to people who see things differently
– and many do. Everyone wants to be compassionate
in difficult circumstances; everyone values personal freedom. The difference is in the way we define what
these mean in those difficult circumstances. Attached to this website, I hope you’ll
find some links to resources to give you more information about the
many issues associated with this theme. In some cases our own Church position may
come as a bit of surprise to you, because we’re not demanding that life
be prolonged at all costs. That isn’t and never has been
Catholic teaching. So that’s not what we are saying. It’s not consistent with
a Catholic ethic. Life is a good, but it is neither absolute,
nor is it the greatest good. Dying is part of life, and the
ultimate good is God. The Catholic tradition has developed several
important moral distinctions to help us navigate this complex space. For example, the Catholic tradition affirms
that: a person can voluntarily stop treatment for a terminal illness when it’s judged
to be too burdensome or disproportionate. Pain and suffering can be relieved, even if the medication administered
for this purpose could end in death. A person, together with their families, their loved ones, should discuss their wishes in terms of care and their desire for potential life-prolonging
interventions should they become incompetent, and they can document this in the form
of an advanced care plan. None of this however constitute ‘voluntary assisted dying’, physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, and each of them is perfectly compatible
with the Catholic faith. What’s more, all of these scenarios should
fit comfortably within the spectrum of what is provided in a properly funded Palliative
Care system available on a state-wide basis. Keeping in mind that Palliative Care is very much more than the sedation of pain – that’s part of it but there’s much more to Palliative Care, which is a form of walking lovingly with people
who are moving towards death. By contrast, when we talk about so-called
‘voluntary assisted dying’, euthanasia or physician assisted suicide,
or however else it’s styled, we can’t avoid the fact that we are talking
about the intentional killing of a person. So let me make our position clear. As a church we oppose the legislation
of any direct action specifically intended to bring about
the death of a person. This includes the provision of lethal substances
for that purpose or the administration of lethal substances
by any means for that purpose. Instead we continue to support the long-held
moral and legal distinction between these direct intentional actions
to kill someone, on the one hand, and on the other hand, proportionate refusal,
withholding or withdrawal of medical treatments that promise little or no benefit, or that are
too burdensome at the end of life or appropriate intentional provision of medication
to alleviate symptoms of pain and suffering, to sedate. It is clear that these legitimate practices
aren’t well understood by everyone in Queensland. Many people seem to believe that the medical fraternity
– or indeed their religion requires them to prolong life at all costs,
regardless of the burden. Many people also think palliative care is
like euthanasia because the ‘pain medications will
kill you anyway’. Now this isn’t the case, and as a religious leader,
I’m committed to do what I can to support initiatives such as “Dying Peacefully-No Euthanasia” Sunday
in parishes – so that people, all people, can be educated
properly about the issues and are less likely to be victims of misunderstandings. Now I know it can be tempting to think
of euthanasia as somehow more humane, more compassionate, more loving. I don’t dispute the fact that many of those who
support ‘voluntary assisted dying’ or euthanasia do so because they really believe that
it is a loving solution to suffering. Seeing loved ones suffer and wanting to end
that suffering is of course a response motivated by care, and concern, and by love. But this fails to recognise not just the resilience
but the power of the human spirit in the face of the most intense suffering. Love, and intimacy can find unique and full
expression in the care of those who suffer. In moments like that, you see that love is a power
stronger than any pain. But it can’t remove all the pain, that is true. Yet it can alleviate the fear, the feelings
of being a burden, or the feeling even that ‘I’m not worth anything,
my life is worthless’. Against that background then, we might consider
the question: Do we, as a society, really want to introduce
a law that suggests, however subtly, that we are wrong to want to be with our loved
ones for just a little while longer, that our suffering is meaningless, or that
we’ve come to a point where ‘my life is worthless’? Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that
we are respecting freedom when we provide the means for someone
to kill themselves, or of thinking that we are being loving and compassionate when we intentionally and actively
cause someone to die. We respect true freedom when we’re sure
that our social structures and laws don’t make anyone feel that they or society
would be better off if they were dead. We’re compassionate, truly compassionate,
when we ensure that our society and its laws leave no one feeling that their life
is not worth living or that they are under some subtle
obligation to end their lives. I’ll leave it there because the documents are with you
for you to read in full at your own leisure. But please do read them. If nothing else they might throw light on
an aspect of Catholic teaching that you hadn’t known,
or hadn’t known well they might underscore why our support
for better Palliative Care is grounded in the sense of
the common good, keeping in mind that Palliative Care is much more
than the sedation of pain. Better end-of-life care begins with better
conversations about death and dying we tend to be terrified of them. How important it is for us to talk about
how we can die well in ways that don’t undermine the really
fundamental values of a truly human society. For my part, I favour a society which says
“yes” to meaningful living and “no” to ‘voluntary assisted dying’, physician-assisted
suicide, or euthanasia; I favour a truly human society which knows
that, in the end, love is stronger than death.

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