We have read Ms Monica Doumit’s article: “A fight well worth picking”, https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/monica-doumit-a-fight-well-worth-picking/in Catholic Weekly Dec 13, 2022,  and wish to record our strong disagreement with her on the issue of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD).

The Catholic and Anglican Churches have been the main stumbling blocks preventing Democracy from being fully realised in Australia for the past 25 years.  The vast majority of Australians, well over 70% according to many years of Newspolls, have resoundingly supported the introduction of VAD for the very small proportion of terminally-ill patients who consider their suffering to be intolerable, and for whom our excellent Palliative Care Hospices cannot adequately alleviate their pain and suffering.

This vast majority includes Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other denominations.  Anybody who has seen a family member or friend suffer horribly at the end of life must surely be moved by love and compassion to want such suffering to end mercifully quickly.  We don’t for a minute believe that our loving God wants a small number of people to die in agony, whilst the vast majority (including evil people) die relatively peacefully.  Ms Doumit disagrees, and believes that the dogma of the Catholic faith requires that a small proportion of people should suffer. Where is love?  Where is compassion?

Ms Doumit uses language which is both emotive and misleading. VAD is not legalised killing and it is not suicide as she asserts.  The use of the word suicide should be limited to the deliberate and conscious attempt to kill oneself, when otherwise not terminally ill.  The most common causes of suicide are a result of relationship difficulties and/or mental illness (not necessarily depression – it might be bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia etc) and/or substance abuse. There are other explanations given by persons attempting suicide, including a desire for relief from extreme pain, and anniversaries of past losses.  Suicide may either be completed or attempted. The action would normally cause extreme anguish and grief to the bereaved family and friends. With appropriate intervention, it is possible that a suicide can be prevented and the person may go on to live a happy and purposeful life…  By contrast, those patients who qualify for VAD are already facing an inevitable and relatively imminent, horrible death from some incurable disease.  They only choose VAD in sheer desperation because death is better than their agony!  In a cruel irony to the Churches’ official position on suicide, the abuse by paedophile priests and the cover-up of these actions by the Church hierarchy has led in turn to the tragic suicides of so many of their innocent victims.

It amazes us how someone who is apparently a loving Christian can sanction agonised suffering in the name of religion, or should we say dogma?  The Commandment used to oppose VAD is “You shall not kill”, but even that is a questionable interpretation of the original text.  The translation in our New Revised Standard Version Bible is: “You shall not murder”.  This implies a malicious intent by another person.  VAD is neither murder nor malicious, so the whole theological basis for opposing VAD is based on an alternative, inferior interpretation.  The result of this is unnecessary, horrible suffering.
Ms Doumit claims that the death toll from VAD will skyrocket, but experience in Oregon over 24 years has proven just the opposite. The most recent figures in 2021 show that a mere 0.59% of all deaths (less than 60 per 10,000) were the result of the Death With Dignity Act.  383 patients were given prescriptions for a VAD substance, but only 238 actually used it.  This shows that the mere prescription for a VAD substance is a strong palliative measure in its own right.  These figures prove Ms Doumit’s claims to be unfounded, and in fact there is considerable evidence that many of these patients granted access actually live longer and have a better end quality of life than those who do not seek to access it.

Ms Doumit refers to the Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation as evidence that VAD in Australia will be flawed. However, the Canadian and Australian laws are very different, and it is not valid to compare them.  The models of VAD used here in Australia are working well and with care and compassion. It is common practice to fine tune laws after legislation, and doing so should have the positive effect of overcoming unintended consequences, rather than the negative effect that Ms Doumit is implying.

Ms Doumit’s article cites several tragic examples of people in Canada who can’t afford the costs of managing their circumstances, who she alleges will be covered by VAD.

Tracey has been unable to hold down a job for more than two years because of the effects of long COVID.  While her long COVID diagnosis does not qualify her for disability support, it does qualify her for euthanasia. Tracey does not want to die but with no job and no social welfare, she cannot afford to live. She has said that for her, euthanasia is “exclusively a financial consideration.”

Denise suffers from allergies to things like cigarette smoke and certain laundry chemicals, and cannot afford to find a smoke-free apartment.

Madeline is one of about 600,000 Canadians suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.  Because only six Canadian doctors specialise in chronic fatigue, getting specialist help is near impossible for her.  Unfortunately, the support payments she receives each week are insufficient to cover the vitamin treatments that keep the symptoms at bay, and so she too is looking to euthanasia as an “out.”

Tracey, Denise and Madeline would not qualify for VAD in Australia because they are not facing imminent death.  These cases would however be the perfect opportunity for the Catholic Church to put its money where its mouth is, and provide some additional funds to these three ladies from their tax free operations.

Where is charity?  Where is Truth in Ms Doumit’s journalism?

People who don’t need VAD will simply not be affected by VAD legislation, so who is the fight against VAD meant to defend?  It certainly isn’t going to help the patients who have requested it, and who desperately want a peaceful death.  Ms Doumit’s attitude, and that of the Catholic Church, lacks love and compassion, the cornerstone of Christianity.  By continuing to resist VAD, the Catholic Church hierarchy is demonstrating anything but Christianity.  Many of our Catholic friends ignore the official policy of the Church on many issues which are misogynistic and completely out of touch with a modern, thinking society.

History has shown how the Catholic Church has been dragged, metaphorically kicking and screaming, into the modern era.  It opposed women being given the right to vote and having the right to pursue meaningful careers, like Ms Doumit’s own career.  The Catholic Church continues to this day to deny equality to women within its own corridors of power.  Perhaps Ms Doumit should consider these attributes of her Church before defending its dogmatic policies so fervently.

We would welcome the opportunity to continue correspondence with Ms Doumit about this issue.

To give balance to the Catholic Weekly we offered to buy a paid advert page asking them to print the above so that  their readers could make a more informed decision.  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, they refused to publish the letter!

Ian Wood,
Spokesperson for Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Assisted Dying (Australia)    www.christiansforvad.org.au

Geoffrey Williams

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