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 physician 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 physician assisted
suicide are never part of end of life care.
the Catholic Church operates 26 hospitals along with 89 aged care, hospice and palliative
care facilities. In
doing so, we follow Jesus’ call to comfort the sick
and the duty to look after those in need.
Catholics believe that the human
person is a unity of body, mind and soul. For this reason, health care should not
focus solely on the body (with symptom control), but also provide emotional and
spiritual support. Catholic health
services apply this holistic understanding by uniting medical expertise with
pastoral and spiritual care. This is especially true for palliative care, where
the medical focus shifts from cure to comfort.
Catholics also recognise
that human beings live, interact and die in the context of a community. This
recognition impacts on end of life care in two ways. First, best practice care will
attempt to surround the patient with a supportive community at the end of
life. Second, it is understood the death
of a person does not only affect the individual, but also family, friends,
health care providers and the wider community. Catholic health care is “communitarian”:
we see the patient in the context of community rather than in an “individualistic”
mode which could treat people as an isolated or detached unit.
With euthanasia and assisted suicide now legal in Victoria, all of us have a role to play in caring for those suffering as well as becoming conscientious
objectors by refusing to participate.
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.
For further information on the Catholic Church’s teaching in this area see: