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Monica Doumit: Thank God for Catholic media, or we’d never know the truth on euthanasia

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A girl leads a demonstration headed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and fellow political, civic and religious leaders urging NSW not to legalise euthanasia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

With wall-to-wall euthanasia on the verge of being implemented across the country, you’d think that journalists would be looking to hold Australia’s governments to account. You’d think they would be watching to see whether the “safeguards”—which featured so heavily in the debate over legalisation—are a success in preventing overreach. After all, this is a life and death matter. Yet in recent weeks it’s become clear that those publications who openly question the “mercy” of state-sponsored killing are candles flickering in the gloom.

As I wrote earlier this year, the Irene Thomas Hospice in the Canadian province of British Columbia refused to perform euthanasia on site, leading to a stoush with the government provider, and ultimately a takeover in 2021—similar to Calvary Hospital.

The private, 10-bed palliative care facility had its land and operations forcibly overtaken by the government-run Fraser Health Authority, and just like in the ACT, Fraser Health tried to keep its decision-making processes secret, resisting several freedom of information requests for documentation to be produced. In particular, Fraser Health did not want to release anything that would reveal advice or recommendations given to its board.

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The requests were made by The B.C. Catholic, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. A couple of weeks ago, the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered Fraser Health to turn documents over to B.C. Catholic. The documents were handed over a few days ago, and it is clear why Fraser Health wanted the advice and recommendations to be hidden.

The documents contained a briefing note from Dr Neil Hilliard, the medical director for the palliative care program. In that note, Dr Hilliard recommended that none of the hospices or palliative care units run by Fraser Health should offer euthanasia.

In the briefing paper, he noted that 3400 patients under the care of Fraser Health die each year without receiving the palliative care from which they would benefit. That’s almost 10 patients a day. He noted further that “while a lot of time and effort is being spent to provide universal access to [euthanasia] for the 3 per cent of the population who may choose to end their life early, there continue to be unaddressed needs and lack of ‘effective access’ to quality care for the 97 per cent who choose to live well until they die.”

Dr Hilliard recommended that euthanasia “should not be provided in Fraser Health hospices or palliative complex care units.” Fraser Health went in the exact opposite direction, requiring all Fraser Health facilities to provide euthanasia and even then acquiring the one private facility that refused to comply. It was all too much for Dr Hilliard, who resigned over the issue.

None of this would have come to light had The B.C. Catholic not persisted for three years. Even now, B.C. Catholic is the only media outlet reporting what happened.

Back here in Australia, the refusal by the Senate committee to recommend an inquiry into the ACT Government’s takeover of Calvary Hospital means the same transparency won’t occur. We need to keep demanding that our governments are accountable for the decisions they make, because Calvary will not be the last time this happens.

In recent months, The Guardian has been running a persistent campaign to force Catholic hospitals and other facilities to offer abortion and euthanasia. Back in July, the publication took to social media to seek out stories of women who could not access abortion or contraception in Catholic facilities, and then run several exasperated articles, a podcast and even a video with the “shocking” news that Catholic facilities are pro-life.

This week, the publication has turned its attention to euthanasia, beginning its campaign to force Catholic facilities to kill not only at the start of life, but at the end of life as well. This should be recognised as overtly anti-religious and specifically anti-Catholic bias.

The aims of these campaigns are twofold. They either seek to force a change to the law that requires faith-based facilities to provide abortion or euthanasia and in this instance, they have already had some success. When euthanasia and assisted suicide become legal in NSW next month, faith-based aged care facilities will be forced to allow every part of the euthanasia and assisted suicide process on site. This is more extreme than what is happening in Victoria, Western Australia and even in Tasmania. Even Dan Andrews didn’t go that far!

They also seek to change funding arrangements, lobbying governments to refuse public funding to any health care facility that does not include killing as part of the “treatments” offered. We need to remain vigilant. Calvary wasn’t the first—Fraser Health was—and it won’t be the last. Thank God for good Catholic publications like The B.C. Catholic and The Catholic Weekly, that continue to do what we can to hold these campaigns—and the governments that fall for them—to account.

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