WHILE all Australians are affected by the COVID-19 virus, we in North Queensland may be thanking God that we have not been hit as hard as others.
If we look to our North things look very bleak, in Indonesia, the US, Italy and Spain.
Who of us is not deeply moved when we see the figures for Italy where over 10,000 have succumbed.
This compassion we have for those struggling is so deep in our Australian personality.
And while COVID seems to dominate all we see and hear there is another big issue in Queensland this year, an issue in which we will have to interpret what real compassion means.
It is about how best to be compassionate to people who are at the end of their lives.
There are some who say that the most compassionate thing to do is to allow a person to be assisted by doctors to end their lives when they feel the pain is too hard to bear.
To see a loved one die is a very hard thing indeed.
I have made this journey with both my mother and my father and I have felt the pain of seeing those so close to me forced to submit to the frailty of their failing bodies, a journey we will all have to face.
But I say it is a misdirected sense of compassion to feel that it is right to actively cooperate in the killing of any human being.
Sadly, this misplaced sense of compassion is visible in report of the Parliamentary Committee released yesterday which calls for introduction of assisted suicide laws in Queensland.
The report calls for a regime with much weaker so called “safeguards” than present in Victoria where the demand for assisted suicide has surged.
The majority of the Committee do not recommend any time limit in terms of how long a dying person is expected to live before they are eligible for assisted suicide.
The limit in Victoria is expected death in six months.
In practice this means the scheme could include a range of conditions that could ultimately be terminal but may be curable or managed, like diabetes.
The Committee also suggested that registered nurses should be able to make the assessment and administer the drug where there are few doctors in remote areas.
Persons with episodic mental illness can access the scheme if they have a decision making capacity, which might include many persons with clinical depression.
All of these extensions to Victorian scheme reduce safeguards and increase the risk to the vulnerable associated with euthanasia.
When talking of the euthanasia issue emotion, understandably, can get in the way of good medical practice.
Here we need to listen to the doctors. What they say is they want to save lives and not actively seek to take them.
What the palliative care specialists tell me is that can control pain in 98-99 per cent of all cases.
With a good palliative care plan they can effectively eliminate pain and allow dying patients to journey longer with their loved ones leading to a peaceful end.
This is real compassion in practice.
In North Queensland we have just one palliative care specialist who has to travel large distances to offer specialist palliative care when we should have about two professionals per 100,000 persons according to the World Health Organisation benchmarks.
Real compassion for those approaching the end of their lives in North Queensland should start with more adequate funding of palliative care support.
However, even if funding benchmarks are met assisted suicide should not be supported.
I think that only God determines the hour of our death and the State should not get involved in this most intimate, most sacred time of our life.
In my view, the Christian view, death is not a hopeless point of empty suffering.
It is instead a deeply spiritual time for a dying person, who, in approaching death, approaches the fulfilment all they are and have been, breaking through the shadows of this world to a fulfilment of their real life and humanity and dignity in the a new and wondrous dawn “where there will be no more mourning, nor sorrow, nor pain” as the Apostle John writes.
And for the families of those dying it too is a special time when they can return to their dying parents in their current vulnerability the love they received as little children in their own vulnerability.
The great circle of life, of love, is completed and even though it involves suffering, this suffering has meaning, as it celebrates love with hope.
This is a perspective our indigenous leaders also appeal to.
But even the atheist or agnostic should reject assisted suicide as a risk to the lives of the vulnerable.
The international experience is that no matter now tight the presumed safeguards assisted suicide can never be made safe.
There are countless tales of wrongful deaths in European jurisdictions, doctors pressuring people to take the lethal drug, family members pushing to get access to the estate, and depressed young people or those with disability who are encouraged to give up in episodic conditions of mental illness.
As the laws have been bedded down the ranks of those applying to be killed have grown exponentially, pushing authorities to relax rules around the schemes.
There are even moves in Belgium to allow children to access assisted suicide and that is what some want in Queensland.
It is all done under a false sense of compassion.
Only true compassion allows people to die with dignity, a dignity that celebrates every moment of their natural life even unto their last breath.
Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference delegate for euthanasia.