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Bishops urge scrapping of proposed euthanasia laws after government defers

Bishop Tim Harris and Archbishop Mark Coleridge
Bishop Tim Harris and Archbishop Mark Coleridge have both condemned the Queensland government for being “agents of death”.

QUEENSLAND bishops have demanded the state’s political lead- ers become “promoters of life, not agents of death” – by scrapping proposed euthanasia laws, and doing more to counter youth suicide and the scourge of domestic violence.

“We’re just colluding with a culture of death,” Townsville Bishop Tim Harris said.

“It’s even worse in the midst of a global pan- demic where there’s death everywhere and here is the Government (wanting to) legislate to take people out.

“In light of the worldwide deaths COVID has caused, in light of the economic damage, in light of the mental illness that this whole COVID issue has created, domestic violence as well, people have turned on each other.”

The north Queensland churchman is the Australian Catholic Bishops’ delegate for euthanasia and sees the end of 2020 as a chance for Queensland MPs to take stock on life and commit to oppose voluntary assisted dying legislation, planned to be introduce into Parliament next May.

“2020 has been a year of distress. I think this is a perfect opportunity for our political leaders to say ‘we’ve had enough’,” he said.

“And (for them) to stand up there and say to the Queensland community – listen, we want to be promoters of life, not agents of death.”

Bishop Harris has witnessed tough times across his northern diocese, with rural communities hard hit by drought and floods, and with the number of suicides soaring.

“My diocese has a very high number of people who have committed suicide compared to the rest of the nation,” he said.

“There are young people who commit suicide.

“I thought a civilised society was against suicide. I thought a civilised society was always ready to assist those wanting to take their own lives by looking at preventative measures.

“Any suicide is a tragedy. And people who see this as the only way they can deal with a terminal illness, I think that is a tragedy.”

RELATED: Townsville Bishop says Queensland’s euthanasia push comes from misplaced compassion

After an election promise to fast-track VAD laws, the Queensland Government bowed to a backlash and announced on December 14 that the introduction of euthanasia legislation would be delayed from February until May next year.

The move will give the Queensland Law Reform Commission more time to consider final submissions from civic, Church and medical bodies concerned at the social impacts of euthanasia.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said a few more months would “give the Law Reform Commission the time it needs and members of Parliament the time they need to address the deep and complex issues rather than make a quick and shallow call”.

“It will also allow other voices to be heard, in particular the voice of First Nations peoples who so far haven’t been heard at all,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“It may also give time and space for a rethink about the paltry sum assigned over six years to improving palliative care in Queensland.

“It may also give time and space for a better grasp of the importance of institutional conscien- tious objection should the legislation pass.

“This is crucial for all Catholic healthcare and aged-care facilities who would never be able to co-operate with physician-assisted suicide.

“Were that fundamental right denied, a crisis of some kind would loom.”

Bishop Harris said it was “an absolute disgrace” a parliamentary committee examining end-of-life care had held only “minimal” discussions with Indigenous communities as it travelled across Queensland holding consultation sessions.

“They have overlooked some of the most vulnerable people in our community and not had a conversation with them and talked this issue through,” he said.

“Indigenous people have told me they are horrified about it, they don’t know enough about it, and they simply don’t trust ‘white man’s medicine’.

“They say that if they are taken to hospital they’re not sure they’ll ever come out of it, because they don’t know what the doctors are going to do.

“Now that’s an absolute disgrace, absolutely frightening, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Government getting this right – not now, not ever.”

Bishop Harris called on the Queensland Government to double its commitment to fund palliative care.

“I know she (Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk) has said extra money will be pumped into palliative care but it is nowhere near enough. Palliative care is about a whole regime of accompaniment,” he said.

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