A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Victoria
Euthanasia and assisted suicide in Victoria
On the morning of Wednesday 19 June 2019 we will wake to a new, and deeply troubling chapter of health care in Victoria. On that day the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Act (2017) comes into effect, creating the legal possibility for a person to end their own life or a doctor ending it on request in particular circumstances. What is being referred to as ‘VAD’ is a combination of what in plain-speaking is more commonly known as assisted suicide and euthanasia. Pope Francis has encouraged ordinary Catholics everywhere to resist euthanasia and to protect the old, the young and the vulnerable from being cast aside in a “throw-away culture”. Instead, Francis calls us to follow Christ by accompanying people with compassion, sharing hope not fear. In Victoria, we have entered a moment in which we are called to join this task.
Christians in Victoria, as in any other time of history, are now challenged to show a different approach to death and the dying, one which accompanies every person as they are dying and allows them to love and to be loved to the very end. We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness. Christians have asked their pastors and priests what they can do. We draw attention to our need to pray, to be informed, and to act.
From the earliest times, Christ’s followers have set themselves apart by their care of the vulnerable (Acts 4:34). Indeed, Christ said, “By this love you have for one another; everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). Just as the early Christians were, we too, are called to accompany and care for those who are suffering.
On 19 June 2019, the Victorian Assisted Dying Act comes into effect. This law legalises euthanasia and assisted suicide. Despite what the law may say, our Christian tradition affirms that every life, including those of the sick and suffering, is sacred. For us, euthanasia or assisted suicide are never part of end of life care. Instead, we remain committed to: healing – never harming; relieving pain and symptoms of illness and frailty; withdrawing life-prolonging treatments when they are medically futile or overly burdensome or when a person wants them withdrawn, and never abandoning those in our care.
We, the Little Sisters, voice our concerns as this legislation comes into effect, knowing that this will pose a threat to the life of the vulnerable, elderly and frail. We know from experience that the elderly when accompanied with love, care, respect for their dignity and for their inalienable rights as unique human beings, are capable of continuing to live fulfilled lives. When their frailty increases they are assured of receiving skilled palliative care with all the comfort and dignity that this provides.In this respect, request for euthanasia does not occur and we Little Sisters will always uphold the dignity of human life.
The following excerpt is from the Handbook of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Melbourne given to the Residents on admission:
Care of the dying is the summit of the hospitaller mission of the Little Sisters. It is a sacred and precious moment in the journey of our residents in which we feel privileged to be part of. At this time of ultimate care, the Little Sisters try, by their presence, to show the Resident the tenderness of God and, in prayer, to transmit unshakeable confidence in Him.
As death approaches the focus of care becomes increasingly palliative to relieve physical pain, discomfort and distress. At this time, respectful, sensitive and skilled caring will be used to support you, your family and your carers.
You will be accompanied day and night – appropriate care and prayerful presence will be maintained throughout this time. Your family and friends are welcome to be with you at this time, and may assist in your care if they wish. They may stay with you day and night. Accommodation is habitually available.
Following the teaching of the Catholic Church, we, the Little Sisters of the Poor believe that “God alone is the Master of life and that we are stewards, not owners of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church.) Therefore, we do not accept any form of euthanasia or assisted suicide.
We affirm that the human dignity of each person is inalienable, based on his/her very humanity. The physical and psychic damage caused by illness can never undermine this inalienable quality.
The policy of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Euthanasia would have been explained to you prior to your admission to enable you to decide whether to pursue your application or not. Your care, according to the various levels of assistance required, will be met by a team of professionals: doctors, nurses, caregivers, physiotherapists, cooks, dieticians, chaplains; and non-professionals: volunteers, pastoral care givers; whose goal will be to preserve the best quality of life possible until death.