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Archbishop reflects on Voluntary Euthanasia



On the news that a federal parliamentary group is to be launched to promote cross-party support for a private member's Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, has entered the debate calling on society to reflect carefully stating that “if our society’s basic prohibition on one person killing another is violated even once, then every other human right is also relativised”.

In his reflection, the archbishop seeks to remind society that “every human right ultimately becomes groundless if the absolute right to life is compromised”. “Human beings are,” he says, “by their very nature, oriented to others” and our “responsibility works both ways”. He points out that “the decisions we make, even deeply personal ones, impact on others” recognising that “they affect those closest to us while also having a wider impact, affecting the entire human race of which we are each but one part”.

The archbishop acknowledges that “suitable safeguards” might initially be enshrined in legislation. However, he goes on to cite the slippery slope argument stating that, “even with good intentions of legislators, there is no way of ensuring that future governments will not change legislation should they have the required number of parliamentary members to do so”. He mentions the frightening example of what has transpired in Belgium in merely twelve years where voluntary euthanasia is legal for adults and children alike and no longer solely for those terminally ill.

He suggests it is “not scare-mongering to ask if future legislation might include severely physically disabled people, those suffering distressing and degenerative neural conditions such as dementia, and infants whose medical conditions are incurable, though not life-threatening”. “Once the fundamental principle of the inviolability of human life is breached,” says the archbishop, “no firm guarantee can be given against any future breaches”.

Drawing on the example of abortion law reform in Victoria which strips doctors of “their legal right not to be complicit in something they find morally objectionable”, he questions whether “medical professionals will be able to conscientiously object and not be required by law” to assist in administering euthanasia.

Although proponents suggest otherwise, the archbishop is confident that “many people do not seem to understand the difference between active euthanasia and care for the terminally ill and dying” bringing to light the strong medications available to bring relief, often shortening a person’s life. “This is not active euthanasia but good medical care,” he points out. “Its aim is not to kill but to make the person comfortable, enabling them to die with dignity and, where possible, serenity.”

The archbishop calls not for “more legislation” but rather an extension of “the provision of palliative care services and facilities to help support both the dying and their loved ones” from a holistic perspective. He goes on to say that “all of us - governments, churches, institutions, families, individuals - must accept this responsibility. If we don’t, then we all become vulnerable to the influence of those with the loudest voices or more immediate access to power.”

He ends by saying that “it is for this reason the Church stands firmly against voluntary euthanasia believing that respect for human life, from conception to natural death, is a fundamental pillar of what it means to be human” making it categorically clear that “no-one has the right to take the life of an innocent person. Neither do we have the right to take our own lives.”

To read the Executive Summary of Archbishop Costelloe's reflection, please click here (PDF-308 KB).
To read the Full Text of Archbishop Costelloe's reflection, pleaseclick here (PDF-315 KB).
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