Australian Bishops: The Suffering Need Compassion, Not Suicide by Drugs

Euthanasia is illegal Down Under. However, there are lobbying efforts to legalize voluntary euthanasia, which its backers characterize as ‘dying with dignity.’

(photo: CNA/Brian Gaid via Flickr)

SYDNEY — Euthanasia isn’t what the suffering and dying really need, said Australia’s Catholic bishops.

“Suicide is always a tragedy, and all people who are confronted by their mortality, whether or not they are mentally or physically ill, deserve our help and compassion, not a lethal dose,” Bishop Peter Comensoli of Broken Bay said in an April 15 statement.

“All people have dignity regardless of their health, age, disability, usefulness or other circumstance and deserve our love and support.”

Bishop Comensoli is the Australian bishops’ delegate on assisted-suicide issues. He said the bishops’ conference’s new pamphlet, “Real Care, Love and Compassion — the Alternative to Euthanasia,” aims to inform people about the dangers of legalized euthanasia.

Euthanasia is illegal in Australia. However, there are lobbying efforts to legalize voluntary euthanasia, which its backers characterize as “dying with dignity.”

The Catholic pamphlet countered with the principle that killing people is wrong, a principal “fundamental” to Australian law. The pamphlet attacked several “myths” of euthanasia advocacy.

The pamphlet said human dignity does not depend on a person’s usefulness or health. Rather, it is grounded simply in his or her humanity.

“Our society should be judged by how well we care for the sick and vulnerable. Everyone should be loved, supported and cared for until they die. There is nothing truly dignified about being killed or assisted to suicide, even when the motive is compassion for suffering.”

“It is impossible for government-authorized killing to be made safe,” the pamphlet said, noting that terminally ill people are vulnerable to fear, depression, loneliness and not wanting to be a burden and coercion from family members.

The pamphlet rejected claims that euthanasia has worked in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States.

Bishop Comensoli said that in some countries legalized euthanasia has meant that “some people are being given a lethal dose even when they have not asked for euthanasia.”

Euthanasia is “not just an issue of personal choice” but always involves at least one other person.

“Allowing someone to cause the death of another is always an issue of public concern because it is a power that can so easily be abused,” the pamphlet continued.

Even popular support for legalized euthanasia does not justify the practice, given that the voices and concerns of the vulnerable are “often not heard in opinion polls.”

The pamphlet called on the Catholic faithful “to ensure that Australians are always treated with true dignity and compassion, right up to the point of their death.”

The bishops invited citizens to talk to friends, family, colleagues and Members of Parliament about the dangers of euthanasia and encourage alternatives like good palliative care as well as “loving support and true, life-affirming compassion” for those who are suffering.

Bishop Comensoli stressed that Catholic hospitals have “long history and expertise” in palliative care.

“Palliative care helps people to manage their pain and distress, allowing them to make the most of the time they have, especially with those they love.”

Bishop Comensoli said practices of “respect and care” are “always the better option for the dying.”

The pamphlet is a response to the findings of last year’s “National Church Life Survey,” which found that 22% of churchgoing Catholics are “neutral or unsure” about euthanasia.