Many Christians favour humanity over doctrine

Martin Hanson

COLUMN

like almost all opponents of assisted dying, Chris O’Brien misrepresents me in several ways in his comment on Geoffrey Whaley’s posthumous letter to UK MPs.

First, he states that my comments in relation to Renee Joubert simply “show this man is totally and absolutely fixated on trying to prove that opposition to euthanasia is solely based on religious arguments”.

If only it were so! The great majority of religiously-based campaigners are politically astute enough not to mention religion, so they have to concoct non-religious arguments. The Nathaniel Centre, mouthpiece for the Catholic Church, advised people making submissions on the Seymour Bill to “avoid religious or moralistic language”. Were they to invoke religion the Catholic Church would forfeit what little public support it still has, following sexual abuse of children and most recently, nuns.

Second, and surprisingly to some, a great many members of the Christian laity and some members of the clergy strongly favour humanity over doctrine. For example Canon Rosie Harper, interviewed for the magazine Christian Today, had this to say in referring to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill (2014):

“I support Falconer’s bill, really out of the depths of my faith; I think it comes down to what sort of a God you believe in. If you believe in a paternalistic, controlling God, then I can see you might have problems with this, but actually I believe in a God who is compassionate and essentially offers us free will, and aims to cause us to work collaboratively with Him, through creation in order to build our own lives. And the biggest choice that we have to make has to do with our eternal soul. I mean that’s at the heart of the Christian faith. And if He entrusts us with that choice, why would He then want to take away our choice, just when we need it the most?”

In contrast, a very small number of atheists have stated public opposition to assisted dying.

As Mr O’Brien says, most jurisdictions around the world prohibit assisted dying, but that is changing, with gathering pace. At present the following countries and states have legislation allowing assisted dying: Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, seven US States (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington State and Hawaii) and Victoria, Australia (with Western Australia and Queensland considering it).

While it may be true that some disabled societies are opposed to the Seymour bill, Mr O’Brien obviously didn’t bother to check with societies catering for the severest disabilities in their late stages: The Huntington’s Disease Association, Motor Neurone Disease New Zealand and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand, all of which, in recognition of the diversity of views among those affected, take a neutral position on assisted dying.

Now for the NZ Medical Association, which represents about 20 percent of NZ doctors. Its official position, as stated in its submission to the Health Select Committee on the Seymour bill is: “While we acknowledge that there is a range of opinions within the medical community, it remains the NZMA’s view that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are contrary to the ethics of the profession.”

What range of opinions? The NZMA polled its members in 2018, but never released the results. If the results had been consistent with the official view, why did it not release them?

like almost all opponents of assisted dying, Chris O’Brien misrepresents me in several ways in his comment on Geoffrey Whaley’s posthumous letter to UK MPs.

First, he states that my comments in relation to Renee Joubert simply “show this man is totally and absolutely fixated on trying to prove that opposition to euthanasia is solely based on religious arguments”.

If only it were so! The great majority of religiously-based campaigners are politically astute enough not to mention religion, so they have to concoct non-religious arguments. The Nathaniel Centre, mouthpiece for the Catholic Church, advised people making submissions on the Seymour Bill to “avoid religious or moralistic language”. Were they to invoke religion the Catholic Church would forfeit what little public support it still has, following sexual abuse of children and most recently, nuns.

Second, and surprisingly to some, a great many members of the Christian laity and some members of the clergy strongly favour humanity over doctrine. For example Canon Rosie Harper, interviewed for the magazine Christian Today, had this to say in referring to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill (2014):

“I support Falconer’s bill, really out of the depths of my faith; I think it comes down to what sort of a God you believe in. If you believe in a paternalistic, controlling God, then I can see you might have problems with this, but actually I believe in a God who is compassionate and essentially offers us free will, and aims to cause us to work collaboratively with Him, through creation in order to build our own lives. And the biggest choice that we have to make has to do with our eternal soul. I mean that’s at the heart of the Christian faith. And if He entrusts us with that choice, why would He then want to take away our choice, just when we need it the most?”

In contrast, a very small number of atheists have stated public opposition to assisted dying.

As Mr O’Brien says, most jurisdictions around the world prohibit assisted dying, but that is changing, with gathering pace. At present the following countries and states have legislation allowing assisted dying: Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, seven US States (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington State and Hawaii) and Victoria, Australia (with Western Australia and Queensland considering it).

While it may be true that some disabled societies are opposed to the Seymour bill, Mr O’Brien obviously didn’t bother to check with societies catering for the severest disabilities in their late stages: The Huntington’s Disease Association, Motor Neurone Disease New Zealand and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand, all of which, in recognition of the diversity of views among those affected, take a neutral position on assisted dying.

Now for the NZ Medical Association, which represents about 20 percent of NZ doctors. Its official position, as stated in its submission to the Health Select Committee on the Seymour bill is: “While we acknowledge that there is a range of opinions within the medical community, it remains the NZMA’s view that euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are contrary to the ethics of the profession.”

What range of opinions? The NZMA polled its members in 2018, but never released the results. If the results had been consistent with the official view, why did it not release them?

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Patricia Butler, Nelson - 2 months ago
HUMANITY OVER DOCTRINE: Opponents of David Seymour's End of Life Choice bill are engaged in a futile rear guard action to hold back the tide. Over 70 percent of New Zealanders in repeated and recent polls by reputable market research organisations are in favour. Do we hear clamouring from the citizens of all those countries and States listed by Martin Hansen, to have their legislation rescinded? Of course not - having experienced the peace of mind it brings, they're not likely to want to go back to the days of long drawn out misery and pain.

Now we have a newly formed organisation of NZ Doctors in favour of the bill and South Africa has just commenced a vigorous debate on voluntary euthanasia. Those genuinely anxious about our EOLC bill and not driven by intransigent doctrinal motives, should read it carefully - note the stringent safeguards against undue pressure and rethink their condescending advocacy for those of us who have not sought it. Whether elderly, disabled or both, are we likely to be persuaded to die by family and friends when we would prefer to go on suffering? Certainly not if in our right minds and if not, then we would not be eligible for this assistance. And what a gruesome picture of loving family life! I'm thankful to know that mine will support me in whatever choices I make when my time comes.

Our EOLC bill will be passed and, I hope, in time for me.

Ann David, Waikanae - 2 months ago
Good news! In all mainstream Christian denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist especially) there is a progressive move from specific clerics both past and currently serving towards the acknowledgement that to enforce suffering against the will of a person is morally wrong. Specific clerics in New Zealand and overseas have come out publicly in support of assisted dying.

In our own country, consider: Assistant Anglican Archbishop of Auckland Jim White, Rev Glynn Cardy, Rev Craig Kilgour, all of whom are serving ministers. Several others, retired, support assisted dying.

The Kapiti-based Very Rev John Murray was a stalwart of the assisted dying movement during his lifetime, championing it vocally. He made, as others have made, submissions to the Health select committee and/or to the Justice select committee to express the "wrongness" of denying merciful relief on grounds of the "sanctity of life".

In addition to Canon Rosie Harper mentioned by Mr Hanson, from overseas we should remember that influencers such as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey strongly and vocally support assisted dying.

From the USA, Rev Marvin M Ellison, ordained Presbyterian minister and professor of Christian ethics writes. "Our faith traditions tell us that 'blessed are the mercifu', but it's not merciful to require the dying to suffer senselessly. Denying the dying person the freedom to end unnecessary, meaningless suffering is far from merciful; rather, it's torturous. Torture in any form is morally wrong."

From the UK, Rev Ruth Scott, one of the first women to be ordained an Anglican priest, deceased in February 2018 writes: "There is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony, and individuals should not be obliged to endure it."

As for Inter-Faith, the chair of Inter-Faith Leaders for Dignity in Dying is Judaism's Dr Rabbi Jonathan Romain who is quoted as saying: "If there is a right to die well - or at least to die as well as possible - it means having the option of assisted dying, whether or not it is taken up."

Enlightenment continues to enhance humanity.

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