Catholic health professionals, chaplains and priests in New Zealand are being given guidelines and pastoral help to work with people who decide to die under the new End of Life Choice Act, which takes effect on 7 November.
Euthanasia will be legal in New Zealand as of 7 November. A new law approved in 2019, and confirmed by a referendum in October 2020, will make it lawful to offer assisted dying to people who experience suffering from a terminal illness.
The “End of Life Choice Act 2019” (EOLC) sets out the legal framework and a high-level process for accessing assisted dying, including strict eligibility criteria and safeguards.
Catholic facilities will not offer assisted dying services
Ahead of the law coming into force, Catholic Bishops in New Zealand have issued a pastoral statement and a set of guidelines for chaplains, priests and other Catholic professionals who work with people who decide to die under the EOLC.
The Bishops reiterate their strong opposition to the new legislation.
“The legal availability of euthanasia in New Zealand does not change Catholic convictions about the practice. Our fundamental belief, that all human life is sacred, leads us to teach that we should never take the life of another,” the statement reads.
This is why Catholic rest homes or Catholic hospices will not offer assisted dying services.
Accompanying those contemplating euthanasia
However, according to the New Zealand bishops, Catholic health professionals, chaplains, priests and lay pastoral workers can still help those contemplating euthanasia who turn to them for consolation.“
Faith, in the first instance, calls us to remain present with the suffering other,” the pastoral statement points out. “That indeed is what consolation or con-solatio means: bearing another’s suffering by sharing it and entering into the solitude of others to make them feel loved, accepted, accompanied, and sustained; simply being with the one who is dying; bearing witness to hope through our closeness.”
Places of assisted dying to be outposts of the Holy Spirit
“Through this power of hope we can, person by person, transform the places of assisted dying into outposts of the Holy Spirit,” the statement goes on to say, emphasizing that “prayer and ministry with the dying need never know human barriers.”
Ensuring that no one is abandoned to desolation
In their guidelines, New Zealand’s bishops further explain that accompanying someone who is expressing a desire for assisted dying “does not imply moral agreement by the accompanier”, nor does it imply suspending Church’s beliefs on euthanasia.
“Rather, accompaniment ensures that no one is abandoned to desolation. It calls pastoral carers to enter into a liminal space where the Church’s beliefs about euthanasia sit alongside its teaching about accompaniment and consolation.”
Read the pastoral statement from the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference here.
With thanks to Vatican News and Lisa Zengarini, where this article originally appeared.