By Jamie O’Brien and Josh Low
Seven Bishops of Western Australia have this week called on the WA Government to take the ethically and socially right road towards better and more accessible end-of-life care, and not to take the easy road of voluntary assisted dying.
In a statement released on Monday 20 November, the seven Bishops: Archbishop Timothy Costelloe and Auxiliary Bishop Sproxton of Perth, Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome, Bishop Michael Morrissey of Geraldton, Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, as well as Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth and Emeritus Bishop Justin Bianchini of Geraldton have spoken about the current debate of doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia in WA.
“Voluntary assisted dying is never a purely individual choice: it is always a social choice that requires and demands other people to cooperate,” the statement says.
“It always affects other people.
“Every decision we make, no matter how private it may appear to be, does in fact impact on others precisely because we are not isolated individuals but people who live in a family, a community, a society.
“The myth of “it’s my life, it’s my choice” completely ignores this reality.
The WA Government announced last week that they will soon introduce a bill to Parliament to legalise voluntary assisted suicide for patients suffering from a terminal illness.
The announcement comes following the recommendations from the Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices, outlined in its August report My Life, My Choice.
The Panel will be chaired by Malcolm McCusker QC, former Governor of Western Australia, and will report to the Minister for Health. The panel of 11 members is comprised of leading health professionals, health consumers and legal experts.
A poll conducted by The Weekend West, claims that 84 per cent of voters (474 in total) want assisted dying made legal. Furthermore, 18 Upper House MP’s have stated they are in favour of voluntary euthanasia, while 12 are against and six are undecided.
The six undecided politicians are One Nation’s Robin Scott, Liberal Jim Chown, Nationals MP Jacqui Boydell and Labor’s Martin Pritchard, Kyle McGinn and Adele Farina.
The West Australian reported that if they all voted against the legislation, and one MP currently in the ‘Yes’ camp switched sides, the vote would go down to the wire.
However, the statement from the WA Bishops explained that voluntary assisted dying in either form represents a radical breach in the universal prohibition on one person killing another.
“This prohibition sits at the heart of every civilised society.
“The right to life is the ‘sine qua non’ of all human rights: to risk or relativise it would be to undermine the foundation of every other right we enjoy.”
In an exclusive interview with The Record, Archbishop Costelloe reiterated that respect for human life from conception to natural death is of utmost importance, describing it as a fundamental pillar of the Catholic understanding of what it means to be human.
“Every other human right ultimately becomes groundless if this absolute right to life is compromised,” he explained.
“I am not trying to disguise the fact that the Church’s position, as well as encompassing real concerns about the likely outcomes of the proposed legislative changes, is deeply grounded in our religious conviction that life is a precious gift from God which no-one has the right to terminate.
“Out of a sense of responsibility to contribute to the health and common good of our society, the Church offers this teaching and this wisdom to the wider community in the conviction that it is the best way forward for our society,” he said.
Archbishop Costelloe added that decisions individuals make about their desire to determine the time and manner of their death have implications beyond their own lives.
He added that once the “right” to end one’s life is established and legislated for, it only opens up further questions.
“It becomes possible to ask if and under what circumstances others might have the ‘right’ or even the ‘obligation’ to end someone’s life.
“It also becomes possible to ask if a person has not only the ‘right’ but sometimes the ‘duty’ to end their life,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“This is the slippery slope argument, dismissed by some as a scare tactic.”
Archbishop Costelloe said in countering this, some suggest enshrining suitable ‘safeguards’ in legislation.
He added that such an approach however, betrays a somewhat idealised view of how governments work, using the example of Belgium’s introduction of voluntary euthanasia in 2002 and subsequent change in policy in allowing for children of any age experiencing terminal illness to request death.
“Even with good intentions of legislators, there is no way of ensuring that future governments will not change legislation should they have the required number of parliamentary members to do so. The experience of other countries reveals this.
“Euthanasia [in Belgium] is now permissible not only for the terminally ill but for those experiencing unbearable suffering,” he said.
“Terminally ill children of any age can also request euthanasia [the Netherlands sets the age at 12 years].
“It is not scare-mongering to ask if future legislation might include severely physically disabled people, those suffering distressing and degenerative neural conditions such as dementia, and infants whose medical conditions are incurable, though not life-threatening.”
Although those in favour of legalised euthanasia across Australia may reject the extreme examples offered by the Archbishop of Perth, the fact of the matter remains that there can be no guarantee that the dignity and sanctity of human life will not continue to be breached in the future.
Archbishop Costelloe believes that the solution lies not in more legislation, but the increase the availability of palliative care services and facilities to help support both the dying and their loved ones.
“All of us – governments, churches, institutions, families, and individuals must accept this responsibility to truly care for and support people throughout their lives, and especially as they come close to death.
“An even greater challenge is this. We need the courage to ask ourselves if we are creating a society in which people are more or less likely to be lonely, isolated, deprived of adequate medical and social support, abandoned or neglected by family and friends, and unsupported if family and friends are unable or unwilling to care for them,” he said.
“How good are we as Christians in caring for people who are struggling to care adequately for themselves?
“How can we strengthen and support those many institutions in our society which can help us maintain and develop a deep sense of compassion, generosity, and a ready acceptance of our mutual responsibility for each other?
“In this sense the question about voluntary euthanasia is part of a much wider issue of our society’s capacity to care for all human life,” he concluded.
Read the Statement Here