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New Zealand Anglican bishops speak out against moves to legalise euthanasia

Posted on: February 28, 2018 12:06 PM
Photo Credit: Darko Stojanovic / Pixabay

[Anglican Taonga, by Julanne Clarke-Morris] Eight Anglican bishops have called for a halt to the End of Life Choice Bill, which proposes legalising medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Aotearoa New Zealand. In their submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill this week, the bishops recommended no change to existing laws, and called for more funding of palliative care and counselling support for patients and their [family].

Rather than introducing assisted dying as proposed in the Bill, the bishops believe their government should ensure New Zealanders have access to the best quality palliative and psycho-social care when faced with terminal illness. They cite Australian doctor Karen Hitchcock who in her 12 years of work in large public hospitals has often heard patients express a wish to die, but says the cause of that desire is seldom physical pain,

“[It] is often because of despair, loneliness, grief, the feeling of worthlessness, meaninglessness or being a burden. I have never seen a patient whose physical suffering was untreatable,” she said.

The bishops also point out that many legal care options enable medical staff to assist dying people: such as pain relieving drugs, sedation, and for those in a coma, withdrawal of artificial life support.

Bishop Steven Benford has administered pain medication to the dying on many occasions while serving in his medical vocation as an anaesthetics specialist. “As doctors we often administer pain medication for a terminally ill patient – in the pretty sure expectation it could shorten their life,” he says. “But the matter of intention makes a big difference. When I administered pain medication to a person near death, even though I knew my action may risk hastening death, my intention was not to cause death, but to ease that person’s suffering.

“It would be very different to know that at the end of that needle in my hand was a substance that guaranteed the person in front of me would be dead in 15 minutes. That would change my intention from improving their quality of life to actively causing death.

“That is not a role I think many doctors would choose.”

The eight bishops question the mono-cultural character of public conversation on assisted dying, noting Māori voices have been under-represented. They ask whether the law should go ahead without adequate attention to the Treaty principle of Māori input into laws that affect [family and community life].

The eight bishops supporting the joint submission against the End of Life Choice Bill are: the Bishop of Auckland, Ross Bay; the Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews; the Bishop of Dunedin, Dr Steven Benford; the Bishop of Nelson, Richard Ellena; the Bishop of Te Waipounamu, Richard Wallace, the Bishop of Waiapu, Andrew Hedge; the Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki, Archbishop Philip Richardson, and the Bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth.

  • Click here to read Julanne Clarke-Morris’s full report on the Anglican Taonga website.