The Melbourne Diocesan Synod has urged politicians in the Australian state of Victoria not to legalise medically assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in the 40-member Legislative Council – the upper chamber of the state parliament – next week. The bill was passed by the lower house – the Legislative Assembly – last week after a mammoth 24-hour debate that coincided with a synod debate on the legislation. The lower house passed the bill by 47 votes to 37. Voting in the upper house is thought to be much tighter. The ABC reports that 19 members of the upper house support the bill; with 11 opposing it. The remaining 10 members haven’t indicated how they will vote.
As Victorian MPs were debating the bill in the State Parliament, Melbourne Anglicans were gathered a few streets away in St Paul’s Cathedral for their synod meeting. Medical ethicist Dr Denise Cooper-Clarke told the synod that the bill’s proposed safeguards were inadequate, that it was inherently discriminatory, and that improved palliative care was a much safer and more compassionate way to address what has been termed “bad deaths”.
The bill, she said, would fundamentally change attitudes to suicide at a time when the Government was trying to reduce youth suicide.
After a debate, the synod voted to urge the Government to better resource palliative care, especially in regional and remote communities, Aboriginal communities and nursing homes, and to provide more palliative care training for health professionals. It resolved to oppose introducing a legal framework for “assisted dying”.
Dr Cooper-Clarke said that the legislation would not cover only the small number of extreme cases but a much broader range of circumstances, where the suffering of the patients may not involve severe pain or physical symptoms at all; and that overseas studies had shown pain was not the primary reason for requests for assisted dying but psychological factors: depression, hopelessness, being tired of life, loss of control and loss of dignity.
“Elderly, frail and sick patients are especially vulnerable to implied or explicit messages from relatives that they are a burden and that they would be ‘better off dead’”, she said. “It is naïve to assume that people always have the best interests of their relatives at heart. Elder abuse is prevalent in our society.
“Many people support assisted dying because they believe it is a compassionate response to suffering. But how is it compassionate to agree with someone who is so distressed that they wish to end their life that yes, their life is not worth living, and yes they would be better off dead?”