QUEENSLAND’S religious leaders’ strong and united stand against legalising euthanasia has been bolstered by a major Vatican declaration in support of dying patients.
A letter signed by 16 faith leaders, including Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, urges greater support for palliative care, and warned that voluntary assisted dying was “not dying well”.
“We believe that the Queensland Government should maintain the current laws and improve palliative care for a flourishing Queensland based on human freedom, human dignity and the common good,”
the letter states.
Joining Archbishop Coleridge in the declaration are Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane Phillip Aspinall, Uniting Church Reverend David Baker as well as the president of the Islamic Council of Queensland Habib Jamal, Brisbane Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Levi Jaffe, and Wesleyan, Lutheran, Baptist and other leaders.
“It’s important that this be a statewide conversation – that inner city voices don’t drown out those in the regions whose opinions count just as much,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Not least among these are our Indigenous communities which have been strong in their rejection of euthanasia.
“Queenslanders need a proper and considered conversation on this complex topic, not a rush to new legislation, especially at a time when suicide is a real concern in the community.”
In Rome, representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the Muslim and Jewish faiths have signed an equally strong end-of-life declaration.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are “inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden with no exceptions”, international faith leaders said.
They encouraged promoting palliative care so that dying patients receive the best, most comprehensive physical, emotional, social, religious and spiritual care and appropriate support for their families.
Queensland is holding a parliamentary inquiry examining end-of-life issues, including euthanasia and palliative care.
It was due to report back this month (November), but the Government pushed back the report deadline until next March.
Archbishop Coleridge gave evidence to an inquiry hearing in September and called for better palliative care in Queensland, rather than potential new laws that would allow voluntary euthanasia.
Voluntary assisted suicide laws came in to effect in Victoria in June, while draft euthanasia laws are being debated by Western Australia’s Legislative Council.
The Australian Medical Association is against euthanasia of any kind.
The joint statement signed by Queensland’s religious leaders sets out a vision for a Queensland community that includes access to high-quality health care, aged care and end-of-life care that addresses people’s physical, psycho-social and spiritual needs.
“We understand that some Queenslanders are experiencing extreme physical, mental or emotional suffering,” the statement said.
“When these people tell us that they think the best solution would be for us to help them to take their own lives, or even end their lives for them, we should be very concerned.”
The religious leaders said to respond by giving people the legal and physical means to take their life would be to fail as a society.
“This is especially problematic when the means do exist as evidenced by the very positive experiences of high-quality specialist palliative care,” the leaders said.
“We have failed in our responsibility to affirm the worth of every Queenslander and the meaningfulness of every life, leading some among us, especially the most vulnerable, to believe that they are worth nothing and that they would be ‘better off dead’.
“This can never be regarded as a compassionate response to the crisis of suffering.”
The religious leaders said “voluntary assisted dying” was not dying well, and legalising this practice would offer Queenslanders “a misleading choice – you can choose to die horribly or you can take your own life”.
“High-quality specialist palliative care means that death does not have to be horrible,” the religious leaders said.
“High-quality palliative care is not merely a third option; it is best practice.
“Queenslanders do not yet have universal access to such specialist palliative care that addresses the physical, psycho-social and spiritual needs of people.”
The statement said VAD would undermine efforts to curb suicide in Queensland that had the country’s second-highest rate of self-inflicted death.
The religious leaders call for high-quality palliative care, education, and better conversations about death and dying.
“The problems evident in aged care should be urgently addressed,” they urged.
“Support and resourcing for the spiritual dimension of healing, and so for chaplaincy and spiritual care in hospitals should be prioritised.
“Education about what high-quality palliative care is should be supported, and myths that create false and unwarranted fears and uncertainties about the dying process should be
“Support and encouragement should be given to research into better palliative care and into how palliative care can foster lives that have meaning and value in a society that affirms human dignity at every point.”