EUTHANASIA legislation is a top priority for Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk but the rushed promise needs to get past Townsville Bishop Tim Harris first.
The North Queensland bishop told The Catholic Leader he believed the returned Queensland Labor Government was “helping to facilitate a culture of death” with the promise to introduce voluntary assisted suicide legislation in February.
“We’re now going to have a government colluding with doctors and patients and helping to facilitate someone’s death by suicide,” Bishop Harris said.
“To me that is shocking.
“They’re talking about dignity all the time – how is it dignified to help people commit suicide?”
As the Australian Catholic Bishops’ delegate for euthanasia, Bishop Harris (pictured) has become even more vocal about the “expedient” path the Queensland Premier is taking since winning the election.
Last week he wrote letters to all eight victorious parliamentarians within his diocese, not only to congratulate them on their election wins, but to raise some “outstanding business”.
“I call that outstanding business the whole issue of voluntary assisted suicide, and how the Premier indicated during the election campaign said that she’d introduce legislation in the Queensland Parliament in February, and this went against everything she said she was going to do,” Bishop Harris said.
“She said she’d wait for the law reform commission to report back in March but she jumped the gun.”
With more than 80,000 Catholics living in the Queensland electorates that make up the Townsville diocese, namely Whitsunday, Burdekin, Mundingburra, Townsville, Thuringowa, Hill, Traeger and Hinchinbrook, Bishop Harris said the “right thing to do” was to write to the elected MPs.
In his letters he raised his concerns about the Queensland Premier’s last-minute election promise to legislate voluntary assisted dying, questioned the lack of consultation with the Indigenous community, and highlighted that new members had been given inadequate time to comprehend the issue of euthanasia in their electorates before February.
Among Townsville’s elected parliamentarians are two new members, Labor member Les Walker for Mundingburra and Liberal-National member Amanda Camm for Whitsunday.
Bishop Harris said he was particularly concerned for Mr Walker who, as a Labor member, would be allowed to cast a conscience vote on voluntary assisted suicide legislation.
“Les is a good man, and I know him and I like him, but he has come into the parliament at a stage where he has no idea necessarily about the whole issue because he’s just arrived in parliament,” Bishop Harris said.
“It’s a bit rich to ask a new member of parliament to get his mind around the issue of voluntary assisted dying or as I like to call it voluntary assisted suicide.”
Bishop Harris said he would work hard to create a dialogue with the Labor members for Mundingburra, Townsville and Thuringowa, which was claimed by Aaron Harper, the chair of the Queensland Health Committee that recommended VAD legislation.
“All I can do in good faith is to try and advocate,” Bishop Harris said.
“We are treating each other so badly and I’m absolutely ashamed of state governments who’ve embraced this path.
“I really believe that because governments right across Australia, our state governments, are going down this voluntary assisted suicide path, I think we are entering into territory that we’ve never entered before.”
With the state on the road to embracing this “culture of death” in just three months time, Bishop Harris said Queenslanders should not underestimate the dangers of advocating for people to end their life.
“It might be for those with terminal illness at the moment, this legislation, but who is to say that people aren’t going to advocate for those with Alzheimer’s or those people with depression?” he said.
“And I know actually now there are people in Townsville advocating for people with dementia, let’s put them on the list.
“We end up bumping off people who are our most vulnerable.”
Bishop Harris said Australia’s Indigenous people were “horrified with the idea” of voluntary assisted suicide.
“They just don’t trust white man’s medicine,” he said.
“Where’s the respect of the Government for our Indigenous brothers and sisters?
“They’re our most vulnerable people and they’re being treated like this.
“It truly is an absolute disgrace that the Government has pushed on regardless.”
Bishop Harris has suggested governments focus on the offering the best palliative care for patients where they ideally died peacefully and without pain, since that had become a large reason to push for euthanasia.
He said there also needed to be better formation on pro-life alternatives, and a greater understanding on “what they’re doing when they’re committing to do an act of voluntary assisted suicide”.
“But the trouble is, people are fearful, whoever they are, Catholic or not, they’re petrified that they’re going to die in pain and they jump to the conclusion, the only way out of this is to commit suicide,” he said.
“I think when society’s got to that situation, where the community is fearful, that’s not the time to be making decisions about voluntary assisted suicide.
“And voluntary assisted dying is never the answer, it’s never the answer.
“How is it a society’s allowed a situation when we talk about suicide either in relation to this matter or generally, what has happened in society that people are even thinking about this?
“I think we’ve let people down, in a big way.”