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Church leaders unite to speak out on euthanasia move

Posted on: August 16, 2017 10:13 AM
An ecumenical group of seven church leaders from the Australian state of Victoria expressed their opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia in a joint letter to Premier Daniel Andrews, published in the Herald-Sun newspaper.
Photo Credit: Anglican Diocese of Melbourne

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, has joined six other Christian leaders from the region in calling on the state premier to reconsider plans to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia. In a letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox church leaders say that “human dignity is honoured in living life, not in taking it.” The church leaders published their letter as an advertisement in the daily Herald-Sun newspaper.

Seven bishops based in Melbourne have written to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews asking him to reconsider plans to legalise euthanasia. Here is the letter, which was published as an advertisement in today’s Herald-Sun.

The move comes as the Victorian parliament is set to consider a bill that would allow Australian citizens or permanent residents, over the age of 18 and living in Victoria, to request a medically assisted death if they have an advanced and incurable illness, disease or medical condition.

Members of the state parliament are to be given a free vote on the proposals, which, if passed, would take effect from 2019. The proposals were contained in a report by Professor Brian Owler, who led an inquiry into End of Life Choices for the Victorian government. The Church leaders say that they “commend much of the work” of the inquiry, “which identified the need to improve the quality and accessibility of palliative care for all Victorians,” but they “strongly reject the proposal to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Victoria.”

In their letter, the church leaders say that: “Even though an act of euthanasia or assisted suicide may be motivated by a sense of compassion, true compassion motivates us to remain with those who are dying, understanding and supporting them through their time of need, rather than simply acceding to a request to be killed.

“It is right to seek to eliminate pain, but never right to eliminate people. Euthanasia and assisted suicide represent the abandonment of those who are in greatest need of our care and support.”

They warn of the risk of “error, fraud or coercion” and say that the state abolished the death penalty “because we recognised that in spite of our best efforts, our justice system could never guarantee that an innocent person would not be killed by mistake or by false evidence. The same is true of health care.

“Mistakes happen and the vulnerable are exploited. We ask you to consider especially the risks to those whose ability to speak up for themselves is limited by fear, disability, illness or old age.”

They also warn of the message that state-endorsed suicide would carry and the impact it would have on efforts to prevent suicide amongst the young and vulnerable. “It would be counter-productive to legally endorse any form of suicide when our governments and community groups are working so hard to persuade others that it is not a solution to take their own life,” they say.

And they warn that the move will “affect the confidence that seriously ill patients nearing the end of life can have in the treatment and the quality of care that they might otherwise have expected,” asking: “how long will it be before the option [of euthanasia] becomes an expectation?”

They are urging the premier to “think again and reject this legislation.”

Responding to the church leaders’ intervention, Premier Daniel Andrews said: “People are free to express their views. I would hope, though, that this debate is conducted in the spirit of respect. My own conscience tells me that this is the change that needs to be made.”

In addition to Archbishop Philip Freier, the letter was co-signed by Bishop Ezekiel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Archbishop Denis Hart of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Bishop Lester Priebbenow of the Victoria Tasmania District of the Lutheran Church of Australia, Bishop Bosco Puthur of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle, Bishop Peter Stasiuk of the Eparchy of SS Peter and Paul of Melbourne for Ukrainian Catholics in Australia and New Zealand, and Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions.