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Euthanasia: Australia's Christian churches unite in opposition

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 Contents - Dec 2010AD2000 December 2010 - Buy a copy now
Homily: Christmas - Pope Benedict XVI
Euthanasia: Australia's Christian churches unite in opposition - MIchael Gilchrist
News: The Church Around the World
Youth: Another successful Australian Catholic youth initiative - Br Barry Coldrey
Call to Holiness: Facing life issues in love and truth - Babette Francis
Congress for Life: Catholic orthodoxy: key to promoting the culture of life - Cardinal Raymond Burke
Homily: Christus Rex Pilgrimage: Building God's Kingdom on earth - Bishop Peter J. Elliott
Catholic origins: Psychology and Christianity: need they be at odds? - Wanda Skowronska
Poetry: Euthanasia, the insidious escalator - Bruce Dawe
Letters: Eucharistic faith - Anna M. Silvas
Letters: Marriage - Arnold Jago
Letters: Lay saint? - Eamonn Keane
Letters: Euthanasia - Brian Coman
Letters: Ecumenism - Kevin McManus
Letters: Family breakdown - Peter Gilet
Books: EDMUND CAMPION, by Richard Simpson, revised by Peter Joseph - Fr Anthony Robbie (reviewer)
Books: THE LAST CRUSADER, by Louis de Wohl - Michael Daniel (reviewer)
Books: FIVE SMOOTH STONES: A 40 Day WYD08 Journal, by Stephen Lawrence - Bishop Joseph Grech (reviewer)
Fighting Fund: 2010 Fighting Fund progress
Books: Order books from
Reflection: Messiah: the one anointed by God to reconcile sinners - Fr Dennis W. Byrnes

The renewed push for legalised euthanasia across Australia, along with the emergence of the Greens Party as a third political force at State and Federal levels, has prompted opposition from a number of Christian churches and their leaders in recent weeks.

The Greens have been seeking to introduce a bill into the Federal Parliament to restore the right to legalise euthanasia in the Northern Territory and ACT, and there have been similar moves at State level.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann has given notice of a bill to legalise euthanasia in NSW while a Minister in the Victorian Labor Government, Maxine Morand, has called for a new debate on the issue. This follows the recent defeat in the WA Upper House of a bill to legalise euthanasia.

Anglican responses

Among the Christian responses was one from Australia's largest Anglican Diocese, that of Sydney. A motion was put before its Synod by the Social Issues Executive and passed as a resolution of the Synod.

The resolution stated that it was in response to "the Greens' notice of motion to introduce into the NSW Parliament a Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia and the Greens' Bill in Federal Parliament to overturn Commonwealth prohibitions against euthanasia legislation in the Territories." 

The Synod then declared its "opposition to voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide" and called upon the NSW Premier and the Prime Minister "to oppose these initiatives" and "to increase funding to pain management and palliative care services."

The Synod of the Melbourne Anglican Diocese passed a similar motion reaffirming the resolution of the General Synod of Australia (1995) concerning Euthanasia, "that life is a gift from God not to be taken, and is therefore not subject to matters such as freedom of individual choice."

It cast doubt on "whether a practice of voluntary euthanasia can be prevented from sliding into a practice of involuntary euthanasia."

The Presbyterian Church of Australia has also spoken out on the issue.

In a recent statement it noted that "the issue of the legalisation of euthanasia is back on the agenda, with the bill sponsored by Senator Bob Brown seeking to allow euthanasia in Australian Commonwealth Territories."

The statement emphasised that the Presbyterian Church "believes that all human life is sacred from conception until death and therefore euthanasia, defined as the deliberate shortening of life (as opposed to the decision not to sustain life by artificial means) is morally wrong."

The Presbyterian Church and Nation Committee has written to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and other party leaders "making our position on the issue clear."

The Catholic Church has been equally active on the issue.

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) has been co-ordinating a national approach to counteract any legalisation of euthanasia with its chief executive officer, Martin Laverty, warning that Catholic Health Australia would "fiercely oppose any attempts to legalise euthanasia."

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has re-issued a submission it had earlier lodged with a Senate inquiry into the Rights of the Terminally Ill.

In a covering letter, the President of the conference, Archbishop Phillip Wilson of Adelaide, said: "We Catholics advocate strongly for the rights of the vulnerable, especially around life issues. But we also 'put our money where our mouth is'!

"When the Catholic Church steps into the marketplace to speak out on what it sees as the injustice of euthanasia, it does so having first established its credibility in serving the poor, the sick, the terminally ill and the vulnerable." 

Cardinal George Pell added his voice to the opposition via an article in the Sydney  Sunday Telegraph on 3 October. In it he outlined the reasons why the push for euthanasia should concern all Christians and those who believe in the sanctity of life.

In South Australia, Bishop Gregory O'Kelly SJ of Port Pirie issued a pastoral letter on euthanasia expressing "sadness" that "the first moves around our nation under our new political arrangement seem to be a promotion of death and an abuse of marriage." With their "new-found political clout", he observed, "minority groups are pushing practices that defy our Christian understanding of the sacredness of life, and of marriage as the sacrament to seal the committed love of a man and a woman."

In the lead-up to the Victorian State Election on 27 November, the diocesan bishops of Victoria issued a statement titled  Your Vote Your Values in which they identified key issues and questions for candidates seeking election. Among these were abortion and euthanasia. The statement was distributed to parishes over the weekend of 30 and 31 October.

Culture war

The culture war is clearly "hotting up" on the back of the euthanasia debate as strategically placed elites opposed to Christian values on human life (as well as marriage and family) seek to impose their relativistic secular agenda on the Australian people. In the process they have sought to limit any religious contributions to the political decision-making process. In light of this, a united Christian response has become more necessary than ever.

In 2008, Rev David Palmer, the Presbyterian Church's convener of the Victorian Church and Nation Committee, outlined the challenge facing the Christian churches.

"Euthanasia is an issue that will not go away, given the fading Christian understanding in the broader Australian community ... When we also remember that for the typical Aussie pagan - despite occasional bravado - death is the grim reaper with no hope-filled prospect to follow, we remind ourselves of the magnitude of the task to defend the right to life and to die a good death in God's time and in a God-honouring way."

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 11 (December 2010 - January 2011), p. 3

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