THE deepest expressions of love were found in moments of intense suffering, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge told the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.
“Loneliness, depression and acute physical pain are a powerful cocktail which seems to be fuelling the call for euthanasia,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Yet there is a power stronger than any pain, which can make endurance possible and even give meaning to suffering – that power is love,” he said.
“A person suffering intense pain can still love and be loved.”
Archbishop Coleridge faced the committee with Anglican Archbishop Philip Aspinall and Anglican North Queensland Bishop Keith Joseph on Friday, August 23.
Bishop Joseph told of his experience ministering in Melanesia, where he spent seven years, and more recently five years ministering to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.
“In Melanesia, typically a person who’s dying has somebody holding their hands, somebody wiping their brow, somebody fanning and often four or five people go on singing 24 hours a day the entire dying period,” he said.
He pointed to this as a model of society where the sick and dying were not abandoned to death.
Bishop Joseph said there were also reservations about euthanasia worsening relations with Indigenous communities.
He said those communities were already distrustful of Queensland’s healthcare system, and to introduce the ability to kill in those institutions would only exacerbate that reality.
Euthanasia is not more humane
Archbishop Coleridge said euthanasia was not “more humane”.
“It may be tempting to think of euthanasia as more humane or compassionate; it may seem that to relieve someone from pain is the best we can do for them, even if that means death,” he said.
“Yet this fails to recognise not just the resilience but the power of the human spirit in the face of the most intense suffering.”
Archbishop Coleridge said it was at these moments that “love finds its deepest expression”.
“In accompanying intense suffering, self-sacrificing love comes into its own and shows the true face of humanity,” he said.
“It’s this love that inspires the sufferer to endure pain in order to be with the beloved for just a while longer.
“Only a society where love is eclipsed could someone accept that someone’s life is not worth living and provide the means to end it.”
A false dichotomy
Committee chair Aaron Harper MP asked Archbishop Coleridge about the Church’s opinion on the number of people committing suicide because they felt “there is no other option” in the face of intense physical pain or terminal illness.
Archbishop Coleridge said it was tragic that there was no other option.
He said it was likely that a complex combination of “powerful forces” like loneliness, depression and pain were forcing these people to consider taking their own lives.
But he asked why couldn’t society offer any other options than death?
Why was it a choice between suicide and euthanasia?
Good governance loomed heavily too.
Archbishop Coleridge said there was a danger with these committees that you hear the “voices that are loudest or most skilful in lobbying or best-funded”.
He said government was called to a greater duty to exercise what’s best for the greater good, not the “desires or imagined needs” of individuals.
“(Government’s) not about managing the lives of individuals, it’s about building an entire society,” he said. “And I actually think Queensland has a good sense of that.”
Archbishop Aspinall said in order to go forward with any legislation, the inquiry ought to go back over inquiries from the 1990s that prohibited euthanasia.
He said the inquiry should find out what had changed socially, morally, ethically, spiritually or legally in that time to overturn their conclusion to prohibit euthanasia.
The bishops all expressed their wariness that funding towards palliative care and euthanasia wouldn’t conflict.
Other economic concerns were also raised.
A prominent one was a possible push towards euthanasia because it was a cheap solution to an otherwise protracted and costly illness.