The Victorian assisted dying legislation has now come into force, and is one of the most conservative pieces of legislation of its kind in the world. This legislation has a large number of safeguards and is only available to Victorians with more than 12 months residence who are over the age of 18. The patient must be capable of giving informed consent and be able to communicate their decision, and either have been diagnosed with an incurable disease or a condition that causes intolerable, unrelieved suffering1.
Of course, the end to suffering for any individual is to be staunchly resisted by many of the religious. The campaign against this legislation by religious nutters was, as you would expect, completely disingenuous2. Now, a letter signed by four Catholic bishops, including the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, warns doctors against helping patients die. Presumably this is directed at doctors working in Catholic-run hospitals. Any patients in Catholic-run hospitals wishing to avail themselves of assisted dying will have to go elsewhere. The bishops said “They cannot co-operate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness”3. This says much about their motivation: ‘empathy and kindness are not to be allowed to stand in the way of us enforcing our religious beliefs on others’.
The Victorian assisted dying legislation was vehemently opposed by many in the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party, which has been largely taken over by religious nutters4. They also hold sway in the federal Liberal Party, such that a private member’s bill repealing the Howard Government’s 1997 ban on Australian territories being able to legalise assisted dying was voted down in 20185.
Most people would remember the story about Australian botanist and ecologist David Goodall flying to Switzerland to end his life. He was 104 years old, and had recently suffered a rapid deterioration in his quality of life6. In April 2018, Goodall fell over in his home, where he lived alone, and was too weak to right himself until being found a couple of days later7. As he prepared to travel to Switzerland, he said: “My life has been rather poor for the past year or so and I’m very happy to end it” and “One wants to, at my age, even rather less than my age… to be free to choose death when the death is at an appropriate time”. He resented having to go elsewhere to achieve his aim and hoped the publicity surrounding his death would aid the assisted suicide cause in Australia6.
Some Catholic apologists jumped on his death to claim how wrong it was, and in part attempted to apportion some blame to Edith Cowan University for attempting to end his voluntary working life because of concerns about his safety at the university. They also seem to want to apportion blame to Philip Nitschke for developing all sorts of assisted suicide devices. They seem to believe that Goodall had been ‘short-changed’, by attempting to use his death to aid the cause of assisted dying7. For a scientist like Goodall to continue doing research until over 100 years of age, is anything but being short-changed. It is something of which to be envious. If I can continue doing research into my 9th decade, let alone my 11th decade, as well as being able to write stuff like this, I’ll die happy.
Other Catholic apologists portrayed the Goodall event as pro-euthanasia organisations being eager to exploit the loneliness and isolation of the elderly, and that these organisations want “no less than a universal right to suicide”. It may have escaped their notice but suicide is already fairly common, and is perhaps even more so among those who have suffered at the hands of paedophile priests, where the various churches’ reactions to this disgrace has caused suicides.
Bishop of Basel, Felix Gmür, has criticised the publicity surrounding Goodall’s assisted suicide in Switzerland, saying the commercialisation of suicide is cynical. He also stated that Goodall’s death sent the “wrong signal” (where have I heard that before?) and that “It should not happen that unemployed people or retired people under pressure start thinking they have no right to exist”9. That sort of drivel is much the same as you hear all over the world from the religious when they argue against assisted suicide. I am surprised he did not use the phrase “slippery slope” in this regard, as it is another common refrain from the religious when challenging anything vaguely progressive, such as allowing same-sex marriage or decriminalising drugs, as well as assisted suicide.
These Bishops, from Australia and elsewhere, just don’t understand that society is changing. Australian society is becoming more progressive and the bits of the churches’ creed which have previously been legislated are slowly being altered or repealed. The days of churches telling people how to live (and die) are coming to a close, and they find that concept difficult to reconcile with their centuries of extreme privilege in society.