Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe SDB has spoken of his parents’ decline and death from cancer and called a “callous and unworthy smear” suggestions that opposition to Western Australia’s new euthanasia laws was based on a lack of compassion for the terminally ill.
In statement following the passing of WA’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill on 10 December, the Archbishop said that the regime, to be implemented in 18 months’ contravenes one of the most foundational principles of Australian society which has roots in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’.
“Do people really believe that so many members of the medical profession who have raised concerns about VAD are cold-hearted and unfeeling?” asked the archbishop.
“Do we really think that ministers of religion, so many of whom have accompanied dying people in their last days, do not feel the anguish of watching someone in pain and distress?
“I myself have been with my mum and my dad when they died, both after a long and painful battle with cancer. It was a privilege, painful and yet profoundly humanising for me, to share that journey with them until the very end.”
Archbishop Costelloe said that the new laws represent “a clear and dangerous move” towards a society which no longer believes in the essential value of human life in all its stages and conditions.
“Once a society gives a government the right to decide who can live and who can die, and who can facilitate the death of innocent persons and under what circumstances, no amount of legislated restrictions and ‘safeguards’ can ensure that a future government will not decide to remove those restrictions and modify those safeguards,” he said. “The right to life begins to look much less secure and unassailable than it used to be.”
WA’s parliament passed the laws on 10 December after marathon sittings and hundreds of hours of debate. Critics warn that it is more dangerous than Victoria’s euthanasia laws, disadvantages people with terminal illness living in remote areas, and gained public support after a powerful media campaign that included false criticism of palliative care in WA.
In a separate statement the Perth archdiocese said that in the “new operating environment” the Church’s health, aged-care and disability agencies would continue to deliver the same quality of service and standard of medical and pastoral care so highly valued in the community over decades.
“The Church looks forward to collaborating proactively with the Western Australian Government to ensure that our longstanding contribution to the people of this state can continue without compromising the fundamental precepts which underpin all that Catholic agencies offer the people of Western Australia,” it said.