One of Australia’s most senior Catholic leaders has called on the Church to strongly oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in New South Wales.
Dominican Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told Catholics to make their voices heard because “the lives of the vulnerable depend on it”.
New South Wales is one of two Australian states which have yet to introduce a euthanasia or assisted suicide law.
The law was changed in Western Australia and Victoria in 2019 and in South Australia and Queensland earlier this year.
A federal law of 1997, introduced to overturn assisted suicide in the Northern Territories, still prohibits the doctor-assisted dying in that state.
Archbishop Fisher, an internationally respected bioethicist, rallied the faithful after Alex Greenwich, an Indpendent politician, introduced his Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill to the New South Wales Parliament last month.
He urged them to take part in a public consultation phase by conducted by the Upper House which is due to conclude on November 22.
“I strongly oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide because we shouldn’t be telling sick people by our laws that we think they would be better off dead or that we would be better off if they were dead,” the archbishop wrote.
“It is very important that you make your opposition to this bill known.”
He said that Australians had to be “especially cautious about introducing the idea of killing the burdensome or ‘volunteering’ for an early death.”
“A just and compassionate society can surely find more respectful and loving ways of dealing with suffering at the end-of-life than killing the suffering person,” he wrote.
He continued: “Please take the time to make your voice heard. The lives of the vulnerable depend on it.”
Archbishop Fisher added: “That other states of Australia have gone down this path is not a reason that NSW should do the same.
“Any moves to allow people to prematurely end their life has grave consequences for our society and must be resisted.”
The Upper House committee will hold four days of public hearings in December before it reports to Parliament in February.
Monica Doumit, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Sydney, told the Catholic Weekly, the diocesan newspaper, that New South Wales Catholics had previously shown themselves willing to defend and protect vulnerable people.
“Past experience shows that this is what we’re good at,” she said. “We have to make sure we stand up again for what we believe and know to be right because this issue is crucial and literally is a matter of life and death.”
Branka van der Linden, director of anti-euthanasia and assisted suicide organisation, Hope, also told the newspaper that so-called safeguards were always eroded over time.
“Less than two years after the Victorian assisted suicide bill came into effect, Victorian MPs and euthanasia advocates were already fighting to remove so-called ‘safeguards’,” she said.
In New Zealand, an extreme euthanasia law came into force on November 7 under the End of Life Choice Act 2019.
Controversially, the bishops of New Zealand have instructed clergy to provide last rites to Catholics who opt to die by assisted suicide or euthanasia, even though such practices are explicitly forbidden by the Church.
Pastoral guidance states that “it is proper that the Church’s sacraments – encounters with God – are provided to the person who requests them … All ministers are entitled to presume that a person asking for the sacraments does so in good faith”.
They say: “If an individual priest, chaplain, pastoral worker, healthcare professional or caregiver decides that there is a limit to their ability to accompany a person seeking assisted dying, such a decision should be fully respected. At the same time, they should ensure that provision is made for the person to be accompanied by another.”
All but one of the nation’s 33 hospices have refused to participate with the law, with the one exception agreeing only to make space for euthanasia while its staff continue to object to involvement in the practice.
In Westminster, Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill – which seeks to legalise assisted suicide – last month passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords.
Similar attempts to legalise assisted suicide are under way in Scotland and the Channel Islands.
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