REFLECTION: Assisted-Dying laws bring faith communities together in prayer

10 Oct 2019

By Jamie O'Brien

Religious Sisters light a candle as part of the Interfaith Prayer Service. Photo: Josh Low.

By Jamie O’Brien

The state’s proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Laws has recently brought faith leaders from across Perth together in a spirit of prayer and dialogue at St Mary’s Cathedral.

The Prayer Service on Sunday 29 September was led by Perth Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton and St Mary’s Cathedral Dean, Rev Dr Sean Fernandez and attended by Sr Angela Burns from the Little Sisters of the Poor Glendalough, Rabbi Sheryl Nosan-Lantzke from Jewish Spirituality Australia, Perth Anglican Bishop Kate Wilmot, Uniting Church Moderator the Rev Steve Francis and Perth Mosque Iman Mohammed Shakeeb.

Palliative Care specialist Dr Doug Bridge was also present for the service to provide his insight and experience as a medical practitioner.

The service was marked as an opportunity to pray for the parliamentarians as they head into debate of the proposed legislation in the Upper House.

Commencing the service, Bishop Sproxton welcomed all present and then invited Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Director Donella Brown to conduct a welcome to country.

Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Director Donella Brown provided the Welcome to Country for the Interfaith Prayer Service on Sunday 29 September at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Josh Low.

Ms Brown spoke passionately about her experience as an Indigenous woman about the importance of accompanying the sick and dying.

She also emphasised that many Australian Indigenous feel that if the legislation is successful in becoming law, it would compromise their traditional family culture and values.

Rabbi Sheryl Nosan-Lantzke from Jewish Spirituality Australia was then invited to speak, commencing with the words of Psalm 8: O Lord our God, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him. Yet you have made him little less than the angels, and you have crowned him with Glory and honour how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.”

Rabbi Nosan also sang a hymn and prayed for the guidance of the politicians during the decision-making process.

Palliative Care specialist Dr Doug Bridge then went on to speak about the challenges he faces as a medical doctor with Parkinson’s and the importance of palliative care.

“During my lifetime, medical science has made immense progress in the prevention and treatment of diseases and the promotion of health. But the underlying goal is to fix sick bodies, enabling people to live as long as possible,” Dr Bridge said.

“Death is regarded as a failure,” he exclaimed.

St Mary’s Cathedral Dean Rev Dr Sean Fernandez welcomes those present for the occasion. Photo: Josh Low.

Dr Bridge spoke about his diagnoses with Parkinson’s, saying that he now regards it as a gift.

“It is an ever present reminder that this mortal body will come to an end. I find that I had to need Love, Meaning, Forgiveness and Transcendence. I took need a deeper connection to myself, to others, to the earth and to God.”

Dr Bridge also emphasised that terminal patients who receive well managed palliative care – which includes providing care for the physical and mental wellbeing of a patient, leads to a positive end of life experience.

A photo montage depicting the human journey, reflecting on the gift of life in all its precious moments was also played for the service, with Perth Anglican Bishop Kate Wilmot speaking a reflection while the photo montage was being watched by those present.

Isabelle Lindsey, a representative of Catholic youth from across the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth also spoke for the occasion, noting that in her experience, many youth cannot agree with the proposed VAD legislation because it contradicts the Church’s teaching on the sacredness and dignity of life.

“What is the point of the Government ‘investing’ millions of dollars into suicide prevention schemes when at the same time, they’re pushing to legalise assisted suicide?”

Ms Lindsey went on to say the significant number of youth present at the recent rally at Parliament House reinforces the concerns many of them have.

Sr Angela Burns from the Little Sisters of the Poor Glendalough also spoke about the aged-care facility’s vocation to care for the aged and the dying.

Sr Angela explained that the mission of the LSP follows in the footsteps of Jeanne Jugan, who cared for the sick, elderly and dying, and that prior to palliative care (as we know it) formally being recognised, the support the sisters provided was the palliative care of the time.

Sr Angela emphasised that this care is still relevant today, and the care undertaken with love and attention, is the best way to care for a dying person.

“We need not resort to Euthanasia but support services such as those the sisters and palliative care practitioners provide,” Sr Angela said.

St Mary’s Cathedral Dean Rev Dr Sean Fernandez, Anglican Bishop Kate Wilmott, Perth Mosque Iman Mohammed Shakeeb, Uniting Church Moderator Rev Steve Francis, Dr Doug Bridge and Perth Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton came together in the spirit of prayer and dialogue on Sunday 29 September. Photo: Josh Low.

Perth Mosque Iman Mohammed Shakeeb then gave an impassioned speech, with a particular focus on how safeguards will not be safe.

He spoke of the slippery slope as experienced in other jurisdictions and warned that we will most certainly follow suit if euthanasia is legalised in Western Australia.

The final address was provided by Uniting Church Moderator Rev Steve Francis who spoke of the concerns of many Christians about the legislation.

A candle-lighting ceremony was then held, with Bishop Sproxton leading the final prayers while also re-iterating the importance of ongoing prayer.