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Please reject euthanasia: Church to Victorian Government

Plea comes as bill passes lower house of Victorian Parliament

Dr Denise Cooper-Clarke speaks at Synod

October 20 2017Melbourne Anglicans have pleaded with the Victorian Government not to legalise medically assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia just before the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was passed in the lower house of the State Parliament.

The church’s synod discussed the bill on 19 October at their annual synod at St Paul’s Cathedral as a few blocks away Victorian MPs debated the bill in State Parliament.

Medical ethicist Dr Denise Cooper-Clarke told the synod 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 “bad deaths”.

She said the bill would fundamentally change attitudes to suicide at a time when the Government was trying to reduce youth suicide.

Social Responsibilities Committee chairman the Revd Dr Gordon Preece noted that media coverage advocating euthanasia was usually accompanied by links to BeyondBlue and Lifeline – an odd contradiction.

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 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. 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’. It is naïve to assume that people always have the best interests of their relatives at heart. Elder abuse is prevalent in our society,” she said.

“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?”

Despite the call, the controversial euthanasia legislation before the Victorian Parliament passed the lower house 47 votes to 37 on the morning of 20 October after over 24 hours of debate.

It will now proceed to the 40-member upper house, where the vote is expected to be tighter, for debate in two weeks’ time.