The Inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care and voluntary assisted dying by the Queensland government was an opportunity for us to consider the kind of society we want to be.
As Gandhi once said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.
Those in aged care and end of life care are among the most vulnerable, and care for them goes to the heart of the Gospel, which is why the Church – you and me – has something to say on these issues.
We are very much in favour of high quality aged care and palliative care, and we would urge the government to allocate more resourcing to these.
But the proposal of voluntary assisted dying (VAD) raises troubling questions, especially when suicide rates have become as alarming as they now are. Legislation which condones suicide and even provides assistance for it will not lower those levels; it will make things worse, not better.
Euthanasia isn’t simply ceasing treatment of a terminally ill patient.
It’s not a matter of removing life support after all possible treatments have been explored.
It’s the intentional killing by act or omission of a person whose life is judged not worth living. It raises questions about the dignity of the human person, the meaning of suffering, and what we should do to relieve the suffering that leads someone to think that death may be preferable to life.
Every human person is intrinsically valuable, endowed with an inviolable dignity and a gift to us all.
This dignity doesn’t depend on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, age or physical and intellectual capacity.
Nor is it something that can be revoked by any individual or government.
That’s why the decision to kill intentionally – to euthanise – is an attempt by the human being to play God, and that always ends up badly.
In saying no when God says yes, we end up saying no to ourselves.
In saying death when God says life, we end up signing our own death warrant in one way or another.
Anyone who has personally known intense physical suffering understands how pain can be depressing and lead to thoughts of escape, even by death.
There is another pain that can lead to thoughts of death, and that is loneliness, which often goes hand in hand with depression.
Loneliness, depression and acute physical pain are a powerful cocktail that’s fuelling the call for euthanasia.
But there is a power stronger than pain, which can give meaning to suffering and make it possible to endure pain, and the name of that power is love.
A person in immense pain can continue to love and be loved: in fact that’s the true palliation of pain.
In moments of deepest suffering love finds its deepest expression.
It’s the faithful wife at the bedside, the daughter or son holding the hand of the sick mother, the lifelong friend staying in the hospital room while the sick friend sleeps, the priest who ministers the grace of anointing and viaticum.
In accompanying intense suffering self-sacrificing love comes into its own and shows humanity at its best.
It also reveals the embrace of God.
In these moments we become most human, looking upon the face of the Crucified.
It’s this love that inspires the sufferer to endure pain in order to be with the beloved for a moment longer.
It’s only when this love has vanished that the desire to die becomes all consuming.
Only a society where love has been sidelined could accept that someone’s life is not worth living and provide the means to end it.
What kind of society do I want to live in?
A society that values every person no matter what their condition; a society that cares deeply for the vulnerable; a society that accompanies those who suffer; a society that says to every person, “Your life is worth living. You are always a gift”.
That’s a society which says yes to life, and no to voluntary assisted dying.
It’s a truly human society which knows that love is stronger than death.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge is the archbishop of Brisbane and president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Submissions to the State Parliamentary Inquiry into Aged, Palliative and End of Life Care and possible VAD legislation closed on April 15.
To still make your feelings known, please contact your state MP.