By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
On 17 October, New Zealanders will head to the polls to vote for the 53rd New Zealand Parliament. Voters will also be able to respond “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?”
Twenty-one leaders of various Christian denominations in New Zealand are now jointly speaking out through a statement released on Monday. Signing on behalf of Roman Catholics is Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington.
They urge caution in voting for the End of Life Choice Act and another referendum that proposes government control and regulation of cannabis. Both referendums, the signers say, “carry the risk of inflicting serious long-term damage on our society, endangering vulnerable people, and making our country less safe for everyone”.
Unethical and dangerous
Regarding the End of Life Choice Act, the signers state they “understand the reasons why euthanasia appeals to some people, as a way of alleviating individual suffering in the context of very serious illness”.
However, they believe supporting the End of Life Choice Act is unethical and dangerous because it would allow medical personnel “to actively end someone’s life or to assist them to commit suicide”. That, the signers declare “is a line New Zealand should not cross”.
Furthermore, the signers state that adequate palliative care can provide those who suffer with the means of controlling pain so they can die peacefully.
The signers also say the New Zealand End of Life Choice Act is “more liberal than euthanasia laws in most other countries, and that it lacks enough effective safeguards, particularly against coercion”.
What referendum lacks
They say it lacks a last resort clause, and does not require a palliative care specialist consultation or next of kin notification or independent witnesses. Lastly, they say the Act does not adequately protect conscientious objectors among medical personnel.
Finally, the signers say they believe that in the end the most vulnerable will suffer most from the legalization of euthanasia: “the aged and frail, the poor, cultural minorities, and disabled people”.
They close the statement by respectfully encouraging New Zealanders to help keep their society safe “for those who are very vulnerable”, by voting no to the referendum.
Catholic Church teaching on end of life
On 22 September, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter entitled Samaritanus bonus “On the Care of Persons in the Critical and Terminal Phases of Life”. In it, they hold up the figure of the Good Samaritan, who demonstrates the Christian response for caring for those who are critically or terminally ill. Among the things this Letter says regarding euthanasia is a response to those who claim that euthanasia is a compassionate response to those who suffer:
“In the face of seemingly ‘unbearable’ suffering, the termination of a patient’s life is justified in the name of ‘compassion’. This so-called ‘compassionate’ euthanasia holds that it is better to die than to suffer, and that it would be compassionate to help a patient to die by means of euthanasia or assisted suicide. In reality, human compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick, in supporting them in their difficulties, in offering them affection, attention, and the means to alleviate the suffering.”