Rev Dr Joseph Parkinson

It will be no surprise to you that the Catholic Church opposes euthanasia. Having said
that, it is important for me to outline our reasons, because there is some confusion in
the community about the stand of the Church.
The fundamental reason for our opposition is that, if passed, the Voluntary Euthanasia
Bill 2010 will radically and irreversibly change the face of our society by devaluing the
dignity of human life.
It is important from the outset to be clear about what we mean by ‘euthanasia’
The essential structure of euthanasia is simple: it refers to an act performed (or
omitted) by one person with the intention of taking the life of another.
At present
the law permits no one to take the life of another person. The proposed Act would
remove this absolute prohibition by allowing some people to take the lives of others
under certain circumstances.
There are important legal implications to the passage of the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill
2010, and Mr Quinlan will make further comment on these.
But the in view of the argument often put today, that ‘euthanasia is my personal
choice, and I should not be impeded in making that choice’ , I will say this: in the
interests of public order and the common good - that is, in the interests of those
social conditions necessary to optimise the chances for all members of this society to
flourish - the State rightly monitors and sometimes restricts the range options open
to individual autonomous choice.
It is not at all unreasonable that the State should
maintain a limit on personal autonomy in this case also.
NDA Forum on Euthanasia and Palliative Care
12 August 2010
There are also serious implications for the medical professions, about which Dr
Watson will make further comment.
For my part, I will say only this:
everyone admits that the content of the Bill is
controversial but, as the public debate so far proves, it is also divisive.
We should
take pains to ensure that the process of this debate is not also divisive.
This Bill, if
passed, will for the first time allow a doctor to kill a patient. In England just a few
years ago the House of Lords held a wide-ranging public inquiry into euthanasia as part
of their debate, and they paid especially close attention to the evidence of the medical
Equity demands that those who would be charged with implementing this
law, should it be passed, should be consulted early in the piece.
So far this has not
happened in this State. It must happen.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the public debate over euthanasia is that the
debate itself has been conducted with no quality control: misconceptions, errors and
blatant deception are published as fact, and gain force by virtue simply of being
published at all. In my view, as important a question as euthanasia merits far more
intelligent and informed debate that we have seen so far.
Ethics is about making reasoned choices about right behaviour which expresses a core
value we seek to preserve or promote because it brings us some benefit.
debate about euthanasia is too important to be hijacked by emotivism or mere
intuition; it must not be uninformed or inconsistent.
intelligent and consistent from start to finish.
It must be rational, logical,
The ‘moving target’ approach used by
some of those who support euthanasia must not be allowed to derail our commitment to
seek the good, the right and the true.
NDA Forum on Euthanasia and Palliative Care
12 August 2010
And consistency is essential.
In our Catholic tradition we sometimes hear of the
‘consistent ethic of life’, which simply means that we hold the good of all persons the good of every individual as well as the good of our corporate whole - to be of
paramount importance in every moral or ethical debate.
From this point of view, we
cannot allow the optional wants of a few to derail the legitimate needs of the whole
body corporate.
Nor can we allow popular misconception to cloud the issues.
There is, for example,
some confusion in the public mind about the position of the Catholic Church regarding
life-prolonging medical treatments.
Let me clarify these questions with authority,
once and for all.
First, the Catholic Church does not object to withholding futile or burdensome
treatment, even when that treatment is required to sustain life, if the patient so
chooses. This is the patient’s legal and moral right. If the patient subsequently dies,
that death would be the result of their choice not to treat their underlying illness.
Death is foreseen but it is not caused by the patient’s or doctor’s action. The cause of
death is the illness. The withdrawal or withholding of unreasonable or overly
burdensome treatment is not euthanasia. It is common sense in medical practice.
Second, the Church supports the use of any and all means necessary to ease severe
pain, even if in some extreme cases that treatment also shortens the life of the
patient. This has always been accepted as legitimate medical practice. It is intended
solely to bring the patient comfort. Death is foreseen but not intended.
This is not
euthanasia, either.
NDA Forum on Euthanasia and Palliative Care
12 August 2010
In both of these cases the Church makes the legitimate and vital distinction between
withdrawing unreasonable treatment to allow a person to die naturally, and setting out
to kill the person deliberately. The former is acceptable, the latter is not.
The first
treats with great respect the person in all dimensions of his or her humanity, including
respecting the fact of mortality. This is good, ethical medical practice.
The latter
deliberately causes death. This is unethical, in anyone’s language, and will always be so.
The fundamental stance of the Christian community is for the good of both the
individual and the social, corporate whole.
For that reason we would counter current
moves toward euthanasia with a strong and consisted call for the extension of
palliative care and other medical and social services which can and, where they are
available, do in fact meet the needs of even the most desperate.
So if a life-sustaining treatment is withdrawn as futile or too burdensome, the patient
must still be provided with all necessary palliative care and medication, and kept
comfortable while nature takes its course.
We would counter calls for euthanasia with a much more humane call: for palliative
care services to be expanded in Western Australia.
At present there is only one specialized palliative care clinic, located at St John of
God Hospital, Murdoch.
The former Government closed the Cottage Hospice in
Shenton Park in favour of classifying general beds in some hospitals as palliative care
NDA Forum on Euthanasia and Palliative Care
12 August 2010
There is a view, held by many, that this was a mistake because it blunted our ability to
promote advances in palliative care as a specialization. We believe our State would be
better served by better access to more palliative care beds. We advocate a return to
specialist palliative facilities in proximity to appropriate acute services, and provision
of more adequate funding.
In the short, medium and long term we all rely on the State to (a) maintain the
foundations that enable us to have confidence in our social life, and (b) work as
actively as it can to enhance the dignity of every one of us.
Euthanasia by its nature is a social act, never a purely personal or private choice.
could only come about if this State chooses to abandon a cornerstone of our social and
legal structure, the absolute prohibition on killing, while simultaneously refusing to
develop options that better protect the human dignity of all WA citizens.
It is my contention, and the position of the Catholic community in this State, that
neither of these are in the best interests of any individual person in WA, or of our
society as a whole.
I am grateful for the contributions of Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth and Bishop
Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, with whom I happily share co-authorship of this paper.
Fr Joseph Parkinson
12 August 2010
NDA Forum on Euthanasia and Palliative Care
12 August 2010