You probably expect an Anglican bishop to oppose a euthanasia ‘reform’. I do, but maybe not for the expected reasons.
First, some theology: life is a gift from God, a sacred trust, not to be taken by human hand.
The proposed legislation’s title, ‘Dying with Dignity’, is misleading, spin to suggest euthanasia is the best way to care for people with terminal illness. I challenge that. The best way to care for dying people is to relieve from pain and suffering, helping them to enjoy as much quality of life as possible so they can, genuinely, ‘die with dignity’. The Bill before parliament seeks approval of assisted suicide. Assisting my parents to commit suicide would have denied them dignity, and tainted our own humanity.
Alarm bells are ringing, indeed clanging, for me. People will place immense pressure on themselves. Family members, friends and society may, intentionally or not, put immense pressure on those with terminal or long-term illness. Yes, the emotional, physical and financial cost of caring for the ill is immense. The cost of care is the cost of love. Love is not easy. Costly care is the mark of a loving society. Known professionally as palliative care, it receives Government funding. Clinicians and nurses are trained in therapies and medicating to relieve pain without making people comatose, helping people live out their last days or months with a quality of life where they can farewell their families.
And what about human rights? Elderly or terminally ill persons have the right of access to the best palliative care. What if, after diagnosis of terminal illness, a patient falls into temporary depression? In that state, would it be right for that person’s life to be placed in the hands of two medical practitioners with the power to take life?
Then there is the question of family members feeling the ‘burden’ of care is too great or, worse, the temptation to hasten death to inherit an estate. Where is the protection in this legislation against such manipulation? Who can I trust with such a decision? I am not sure that I can trust myself. We should not place such a burden on carers and loved ones, already bearing so much pain in giving life, not in bringing death.
In our impatient, secular society, the culture of life as entertainment is promoted every day. Our society is becoming impatient with death, especially if it takes too long. There is a human right to stay alive, to celebrate God’s gifts. When death comes naturally, we can celebrate all that God has provided for that person.
May love and life be the hallmarks of Tasmania, lest we become known as the Isle of Death.
John Harrower OAM
Bishop of Tasmania
*Appeared in the Examiner newspaper, Tasmania, Friday May 29 2009.