Writing about the struggle between the “culture of life” and “culture of death”, St John Paul II said that the deepest roots of the problem were to be found in “the eclipse of the sense of God and of man” in secular society.
“Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life,” he wrote in Evangelium Vitae.
As The Catholic Weekly went to print, the “eclipse of God and man” was in the process of casting its shadow across the State of New South Wales, the last State in the country to hold out against euthanasia.
Last week the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 passed its second reading vote in the Upper House. With amendments to be debated on 18 May, only the details are left to be hammered out – VAD is here.
Warnings from the major faiths, ethical and conscientious medical practitioners, and respected bioethicists have gone unheeded: wherever VAD is practised, it overspills its purported safeguards to swallow the lives of people for whom the scheme was never “intended”: elderly people who feel their lives have become a burden on others, or who are victims of elder abuse; those living with mental illness, especially clinical depression; people with incorrect diagnoses of terminal illness; people in rural areas where access to specialist medical care is unavailable; those who cannot access proper palliative care, and do not want to die in pain.
“If the NSW Government cannot see clear to exempt faith-based medical services from VAD, Catholic aged care facilities and hospitals will be required to allow euthanasia to take place on site, even if they will not perform procedures themselves.”
VAD divides communities, forcing into a dilemma those who cannot by virtue of faith or ethical convictions participate in assisted suicide.
Catholic Healthcare Australia, Anglicare and HammondCare, the largest faith-based health service providers in the country, have protested that the rights of their staff and residents will be violated if they are not exempted from the scheme.
“If this Bill goes through as it is then there are scant protections for the vulnerable and virtually no obligations to report on who is accessing the scheme and why. At the heart of our mission is the need to protect the vulnerable and, as it stands, this Bill manifestly fails to do that,” Catholic Healthcare Australia Director of Strategy and Mission Brigid Meney told The Catholic Weekly on 17 May, before the final debate on amendments.
If the NSW Government cannot see clear to exempt faith-based medical services from VAD, Catholic aged care facilities and hospitals will be required to allow euthanasia to take place on site, even if they will not perform procedures themselves.
This will undoubtedly spark questions about the ongoing viability of those services, or induce difficult conversations about how to preserve the integrity of Catholic facilities and mission as long as the moral eclipse of the “culture of death” remains.
In either case, a law that passed on the basis of a conscience vote in NSW Parliament will bring on a crisis of conscience for faith communities, families, and ultimately for the elderly and terminally ill themselves.
“When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life.” What is the significance of these words of the sainted Pope for us in Sydney in May 2022 — a city at once rich, beautiful, busy and callous?
The Catholic Weekly believes this: that we are called to a better way of life, in friendship with God and each other, animated by truth and hope.
For all our failings, the Church has never failed to perform the works of charity to which this vision calls us. Now we may be hindered in just that.
Macquarie Street, in passing this legislation, has struck a major blow against what is true and good, and won a victory for what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture”: the disposability of the human being as so much rubbish when he or she becomes dependent on others.
“In the face of a concerted and ignorant media onslaught in favour of the legislation, it takes fortitude to continue to stand up for life.”
Yet not all our members of Parliament have made themselves into viceroys of the “culture of death”.
To those parliamentarians who courageously opposed this legislation, The Catholic Weekly offers you our sincere thanks. In the face of a concerted and ignorant media onslaught in favour of the legislation, it takes fortitude to continue to stand up for life.
That is what we shall continue to do to. The unambiguous teaching of the Church, the natural law and the best ethical reasoning is on our side.
So is the evidence, which in the years following this legislation will accumulate in NSW as it has in Canada, Belgium, and in those Australian states where VAD is practiced.
Although we now live under an eclipse in the State of NSW, this is not the end. The gloom may lift sooner than we realise. Even so, come Lord Jesus!