Hon Kevin Andrews MP Posted 19.11.2015, on C4VE letterhead
Dear Mr Andrews
Marshall Perron, former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, wrote to you recently about the diary of the tragic last weeks of John Baylis, who died from Motor Neurone Disease.
As Mr Perron so clearly and succinctly pointed out, the fact that John Baylis could not access the assisted death he so rationally requested, was due to your action in instigating the overturning of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.
What Mr Perron did not say, is that you do still have the opportunity to go some way in atoning for what a substantial majority of Christians believe was your regrettable lack of compassion for the terminally ill, as they die with suffering that even the best palliative care cannot relieve.
Eighteen years have now passed since Oregon State, USA enacted their Death With Dignity Act in 1997. Since then three other states enacted similar legislation – Washington State. Vermont and California. Montana and New Mexico also have the right by a court decision In Europe, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have had choice since 2002, in addition to Switzerland.
There is now a mass of data available, based on the experience in these countries.
Essentially, we can now state that
– Laws enabling choice both for medically assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia can and do work very satisfactorily.
– Many people given the ‘green light’ for an assisted death actually live longer than those who do not request assistance. It is palliative in its own right.
– The numbers using an assisted death are very few, but the knowledge that it is available gives comfort to many.
– The concerns that the elderly, the ‘alleged’ vulnerable, and those with disabilities might be subject to coercion are unsupported by the evidence.
What we can now state in Australia is that palliative care’s own data, (PCOC) collated from over 90 specialist PC services, shows that in the “terminal phase” one in five patients reported suffering moderate to severe distress from pain, one in five patients reported suffering moderate to severe distress from breathlessness and one in twelve reported distress from bowel problems. It is these patients who need choice in dying.
The last resort in palliative care, when all else fails, is to put the person into a medically induced coma, known as terminal sedation, where they gradually starve or dehydrate to death, a circumstance that family and the nursing and medical staff can find extremely distressing to watch.
Terminal sedation is accepted by the medical profession and the Catholic Church as an appropriate and religiously ethical last resort, as the stated intention is ‘to relieve suffering’. No reporting is involved, and the patient need not even be asked.
Yet if the dying patient requested, “Rather than starve me to death in a coma, with the trauma of having my family watch this slow death, please give me the next few days medication in a single dose”, this would be illegal.
I ask you, as a Christian, why it is morally acceptable that the slow death procedure from starvation should be within the law, but not the other alternative?
Although not widely known, there has been support for assisted dying/voluntary euthanasia from Christian theologians since at least the 1930s.
The Right Rev. Dr W. Inge, former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, when founding the British Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society in 1935, said, “It is not contrary to Christian principles.”
Among the founders of the American Euthanasia Society, in 1945, were prominent Christians such as the New York divines Henry Sloan Coffin, the President of Union Seminary, and Harry Emerson Fosdick, the minister of Baptist Riverside Church.
Rev. Trevor Bensch, a co-founder of Christians Supporting Choice for VE, former hospital chaplain and Minister of North Adelaide Baptist Church, South Australia, says: “My call for legal Voluntary Euthanasia is compassionate and thoroughly consistent with the teachings of Jesus.”
Highly respected Catholic theologian, Prof. Hans Kung, states: “As a Christian and a theologian I am convinced that the all-merciful God, who has given men and women freedom and responsibility for their lives, has also left to dying people the responsibility for making a conscientious decision about the manner and time of their deaths. This is a responsibility which neither the state or the church, neither a theologian or a doctor, can take away”
More recently, Lord Carey former Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the world wide Anglican church, speaking in support of the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill before the House of Lords, UK, said: it would not be “anti-Christian” to ensure that terminally ill patients avoid “unbearable” pain, and “One of the key themes of the gospels is love for our fellow human beings … Today we face a terrible paradox. In strictly observing accepted teaching about the sanctity of life, the church could actually be sanctioning anguish and pain – the very opposite of the Christian message.”
Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most revered religious leaders, also speaking in support of the Falconer Bill says: “I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying. I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost.”
Mr Andrews, the evidence in support of CHOICE for assisted dying is overwhelming.
I sincerely urge that you study this evidence and the attachments here.
Do you have the courage and compassion to change your position, as did Prof. Tallis? (see attachment)
Would you be willing to vote to give the Northern Territory back their right to make their own laws? Even if you would not wish that choice for yourself would you be willing to endorse the right of others to choose, should the proposed Senator di Natale Dying with Dignity Bill come up for debate?
In conclusion, I repeat the fact that on Monday 5 Oct 2015, the California Governor signed an End of Life Bill, giving 38 million Americans the right to choose an assisted death. I note that Governor Brown received support for passing the California Bill from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Significantly Governor Brown, who actually had the power to Veto this Bill, is a committed Catholic and previously had training as a Jesuit priest. His stated reasons for approving the Bill included –
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia
Prof Tallis, Why I changed my mind on assisted dying
RIP Keith Smith
Catholic Dr Olvera supports Aid in Dying
Quebec Report, some conclusions
Booklet – I want the choice of an assisted death
Anglican Canon Rosie Harper supporting the assisted death of her Uncle in Switzerland
Is there a Christian Case for Assisted Dying? Yes. by Prof. Paul Badham
A Good Death, by Dr Rodney Syme
Absolute Truth, by Edward Stourton
Doctor, Please Help Me Die, by Tom Preston MD
In the End, a DVD, Dr Charlie Corke
Andrew Denton Podcasts and interview: