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Notre Dame wins uni debating cup

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Campion at left, and UNDA at right, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Photo: Adam Wesselinoff
Campion at left, and UNDA at right, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP. Photo: Adam Wesselinoff

University debating isn’t usually a matter of life or death, but for the finalists of this year’s Archbishop’s Debating Cup the stakes were very real, with the University of Notre Dame and Campion College taking to the podium to argue whether Catholics should get out of healthcare rather than comply with NSW’s looming euthanasia scheme.

The final, held on 21 September at the University of Sydney, saw UNDA triumph over Campion, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP adjudicating.

Campion College, for the affirmative, made the case that the presence of euthanasia would undermine the ethic of life in Catholic healthcare institutions, and said the church should withdraw from service provision altogether in the spirit of the 1962 Goulburn School Strikes, rather than be corrupted by the gradual imposition of demands from the government.

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Yet it’s not every day university debaters have to go up against both the opposing team and the adjudicator, and runners-up Campion had their work cut out for them when the first speaker from Notre Dame extracted the archbishop’s book Catholic Bioethics for a New Millennium from beneath the podium, to laughter from the crowd, and began quoting liberally from the sections on euthanasia.

In his adjudication, Archbishop Fisher quipped that, “Contrary to rumour, I do not give out extra marks for the number of times you’ve quoted me!”

But if they didn’t win extra points for their citations, Notre Dame clearly benefited from having hit the books.

Their case grappled more deftly with the key moral concepts in bioethics, like the principle of double effect, and the difference between formal and material co-operation—whether a person intends to join in with evil, or whether we unintentionally help another to do wrong.

They also argued that God commands us to heal the sick, and that a Catholic withdrawal from healthcare would harm the common good more than remaining in under imperfect circumstances, especially in the wake of the recent Calvary Hospital decision.

Archbishop Fisher awarded the trophy to UNDA for their clarity, but praised Campion for their passion.

The debate was an opportunity for the debaters and spectators to learn about how NSW’s euthanasia regime will affect Catholic healthcare, aged care facilities and other services.

It also gave them a crash course in how the Catholic tradition makes subtle moral judgments in hard cases.

Both Campion and UNDA agreed that co-operation with unjust laws was impossible, but the archbishop encouraged them to be nuanced, saying it was “a complex claim.”

“St Thomas Aquinas doesn’t agree—so there’s someone who thinks that’s wrong!” he said in his adjudication.

“He thinks quite often we have to co-operate with unjust laws, partly because nearly all laws are partly or fully unjust, and society would just fall apart if we only complied with the laws we thought were perfect.

“[St Thomas] says sometimes the civil disorder that would be brought about by our resisting a bad law would be a graver harm to the whole community, than complying.

“That said, he also said some laws are so bad they are no law at all—they are so contrary to reason and to the common good for which law is made.”

The archbishop applauded Campion runners-up Augustine Italiano, Greg Hugi and Nicholas Brennan, and UNDA winners Matthew Ramirez, Karl Bauer and Joseph Nunes, for their efforts.

He exhorted the students to continue to oppose voluntary assisted dying, which was legalised last year and will come into effect in November.

“This is a very bad law that we have in NSW, we must keep fighting it as best we can,” he said.

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