Young at Heart | Choice should be a part of life and death

Two Christian archbishops and five bishops have written a letter criticising the Victorian Government for planning to introduce legislation to support medically-assisted dying... dying with dignity.

Considering that the 2016 census reveals a decline in Christian affiliation and a sharp rise in those who identify as having no religion, I question why this group of bishops believes it can speak with such authority. Yes, I acknowledge their right to speak out, but equally the authority they once represented is no longer so powerful.

The debate around dying with dignity laws should not be about religion, politics or personal glory. This is purely about the right of those who wish to have a choice in the time of their dying, when pain becomes intolerable, and people diagnosed as terminally ill.

Once again Christian spokespeople believe they have some God-given right to attempt to stop a law allowing people the right to make that decision for themselves.

This is simply about choice. No one will force anyone to ask for assistance to die unless they wish to take up the option. There are a list of strict safeguards which will protect the vulnerable, those with dementia, those who may feel they are being coerced by family, so why the concern?

I have nothing but praise for the social work the churches constantly provide today, sheltering the homeless, assisting those in need of counselling, fostering families in crises. It’s the churches, not the state, who are picking up the pieces of people’s lives and helping put them together again. We have good communities who care compassionately for these people.

And yet it is the Christian religious in particular who appear on the back foot when it comes to supporting more contemporary ideas and beliefs. They continue to present last century arguments against changing mores around social issues in our community.

Those in the church hierarchy have made known their views against same-sex marriage, and they are again at their most strident as the Victorian Government considers passing legislation to allow people a choice to die in a time of their own choosing, when life has become an intolerable one of pain, discomfort and distress.

I am not a Catholic, but I am of the generation which first experienced the freedom and choice to take the contraceptive pill.  

I watched Catholic women friends suffer the full fury of the Catholic Church. Some damned by the same priests who were found later to be sexually assaulting children. The hypocrisy was breathtaking. Women braved the might of the Catholic Church and ignored the outrage from the pulpit.

The same could be said for dying with dignity if this legislation is passed. Those heartbreaking last few days or weeks for both sufferer and family could become a thing of the past, if legalised dying with dignity became an option.

Arguments supporting assisted dying legislation have grown in recent years as our population ages and is better educated and informed than previous generations. They are able to present powerful and compelling arguments towards supporting this legislation. The bishops who proclaim that ‘dying laws devalue life’ appear to have abandoned those faced with constant, unrelenting pain, or the indignity of daily living with a failing body.

As an Age writer recently stated ‘Assisted dying laws don’t devalue life, but painful, protracted deaths without dignity certainly do.’ (O’Neill,  3/08).