‘Ignorance of death can make us fearful of it’: Euthanasia as a response to the end-of-life process

By Emma Baker, 25 August 2021
Image: Mr.songkod Sataratpayoon/Shutterstock.com


Over a series of three nights in August, more than 150 people gathered online to reflect on the challenging topic of euthanasia. The event, jointly hosted by the Dioceses of Parramatta and Broken Bay, titled ‘Euthanasia, Dying and the Dignity of the Human Person’, discussed euthanasia from a theological, medical, and global perspective.

The talks began on Monday 2 August with Fr David Ranson, Vicar-General of Broken Bay, inviting us to reflect on euthanasia in the context of the Christian meaning of life, death and suffering. Sharing insights from his priestly ministry, particularly during his time as a hospital chaplain, Fr David noted that death is very much a part of his life as a priest. However, wider society has “largely removed death from our daily lives”, and as Fr David noted, “ignorance of death can make us fearful of it”.

Fr David also observed that the loss of the Transcendent in secular society has led to a replacement of the “religious imagination” by the “technological”, leading to an illusory belief in our ability to completely control our life and an emphasis on our rights as individuals.

The second talk, held the following Monday 9 August, offered insights from several palliative care specialists and health professionals, who discussed how palliative care can be used to manage the symptoms experienced by a person in the dying process.

Dr Philip Lee, who was awarded the Australia Day City of Parramatta Citizen of the year in 2017 for his contributions to palliative care, noted that palliative care is “really not generally well understood in our community”. He observed that many hold the mistaken belief that it is only about caring for a person very close to the point of death. In fact, palliative care involves a much bigger picture, with the process beginning far earlier than the final stages of a person’s life. It also involves caring for the person’s family, as they journey with the dying person.

Monica Doumit, Director of Public Affairs and Engagement for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney concluded the series of talks by providing people with a global perspective on euthanasia.

Demonstrating that worldwide, euthanasia is not the norm, Ms Doumit highlighted the negative effects euthanasia has had on those societies that have introduced it. Citing examples from Canada, the USA, and the Netherlands, Ms Doumit explained how legalising euthanasia leads terminally ill patients to feel that they are a burden on their loved ones. It also weakens the doctor-patient relationship and undermines suicide prevention strategies for those who work in mental health.

The talks were held ahead of the anticipated introduction of the Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation by Alex Greenwich MP to NSW Parliament. With NSW in the throes of a COVID-19 lockdown, the introduction of the legislation has been postponed, although it is not clear for how long.

The online series of talks represented an opportunity for people to gain the skills they need to speak about the topic in a respectful and informative manner, as well as learn about ways to oppose the legislation.

If you would like to express your opposition to the introduction of Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation in NSW, you are invited to share your concerns by writing to your local MP or signing a petition which can be found at https://www.noeuthanasia.org.au/protect_life_nsw

Emma Baker is Team Leader, Life Marriage & Family in the Diocese of Broken Bay.

With thanks to the Diocese of Broken Bay.


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