By Paul Gray
The danger that Catholic hospitals might be forced to allow the suicide of patients in their care has been flagged by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart in a letter to priests.
The Melbourne Archbishop has asked priests in his diocese, which is Australia’s largest, to encourage all Catholics to lobby parliamentarians against new euthanasia proposals.
The proposals are contained in a bill to be proposed shortly before Victoria’s state parliament by two MPs, one from the Opposition Liberal Party and the other from the Greens.
Meanwhile a separate private member’s bill by Greens Senator Bob Brown, also supporting euthanasia, is being considered by a parliamentary committee of inquiry in Canberra.
In a letter to priests dated April 24, Archbishop Hart says the Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill 2008 being proposed in Victoria is “manifestly unsafe.”
The Archbishop says there is no “drive” from the medical profession behind the bill, which seeks to impose the minority agenda of a small euthanasia lobby over the majority values of Australians.
Among other dangers, the bill would “impose obligations on Catholic institutions to allow staff to practice physician assisted suicide,” Archbishop Hart says.
The archbishop says a clause in the proposed bill would make it unlawful for a Catholic hospital, aged care facility or hospice to require those operating within it to abide by the Catholic institution’s code of ethical standards.
Catholic health and aged care institutions have a code of ethical standards prohibiting euthanasia, which the code defines as deliberately ending life by action or omission or to assist suicide.
A major problem with the euthanasia bill is that it that it is not restricted to those who are dying but includes those with incurable illnesses.
This “basically means all those with chronic illness,” he says.
A key danger is that the bill intends to include “psychological, existential and social suffering” within its definition of “intolerable suffering.”
Therefore intolerable suffering, according to the proposed law, would not only mean physical suffering such as pain, weakness and breathlessness.
Another danger is that if passed into law, the bill would make protection of the lives of the chronically ill dependent on “the strength of their will to continue,” says Archbishop Hart.
A key objection to euthanasia proposals is that people may request death for non-medical reasons, the archbishop suggests in his letter.
“Medical research in this area indicates that the desire for euthanasia is not confined to physical or psychosocial concerns relating to advanced disease, but incorporates hidden existential yearnings for connectedness, care and respect,” he writes.