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Church gives evidence to SA inquiry into euthanasia

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A delegation representing the Catholic Church in South Australia appeared before a Joint Parliamentary Committee on End of Life Choices this week.

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The committee, chaired by Labor MLC Kyam Maher, is looking into practices used to assist a person to manage their end of life when experiencing chronic and/or terminal illness, including the role of palliative care. Its terms of reference also include consideration of Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation.

In his opening statement, Bishop O’Kelly told the committee that at the basis of the Church’s opposition to euthanasia was the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’.

He spoke in support of the Australian Medical Association (SA) submission purporting that South Australia has the most complete framework of legislation supporting good end of life care for patients but that there may be some failures in promoting advance care planning to the community and in the education of clinicians and health practitioners.

Bishop O’Kelly said there was inadequate resourcing of palliative care and he referred to a recent report by KPMG that found an annual investment of $365m would bring Australia’s palliative care system up to speed by ending under-funded at-home care and token services administered too late.

The report supported a strategy that embraced palliative care as a fundamental part of the health system and not just something on the fringe.

The Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese, who until Monday was also Apostolic Administrator of the Adelaide Archdiocese, quoted from a speech by Paul Keating in 2017 in relation to euthanasia.

Referring to “conditions and safeguards” that would allow physicians to terminate the life of patients and to assist patients to take their own life, Keating said:

“This is a threshold moment for the country. No matter what justifications are offered for the (euthanasia) bill, it constitutes an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence and the irrevocable sanctity that should govern our understanding of what it means to be human.”

Bishop O’Kelly also said it was a “dangerous idea that we meddle with here”, and “it’s a message that undermines the efforts to address the crisis of suicide”. We can’t have it both ways,” he told the committee.

“We believe the erosion of our society’s proper protection of life is likely to undermine the fundamental logic of suicide prevention.”

Other members of the delegation, Mr Greg Crafter OAM, and Ms Pauline Connelly, assistant director of Centacare Catholic Family Services, responded to questioning from the committee.

Ms Connelly spoke of the importance of supporting those who are suffering and building capacity to make people as safe as possible.

She gave the example of her own 32-year-old son who has the most aggressive form of multiple sclerosis and is a quadriplegic.

“He gives an enormous amount back, and if you saw him you wouldn’t think he would be able to do that. As a mother, I do fear his death. He is already having trouble swallowing sometimes and having different symptoms like that…what he wants most of all is to still feel valuable and to still feel like he gives something back to us.

“So I think we do need to have some type of value that, ‘you are not a burden’.

“You will never be a burden to us because you have a mental health problem, because you have a disability, because you are aged,” she said.

“We have to have a society where people aren’t seen as that.

“My concern is that the choice around that to end life, if you are seen like that, diminishes us as a people.”

Mr Crafter said it was an “incredibly difficult challenge that is vested in this committee and in the Parliament”.

“We here today represent that body of opinion, not just in the Christian churches but in many other sectors of the community – other religions as well – that fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life,” he said.

He likened it to the debate some 50 years ago about the abolition of capital punishment and recalled former SA Premier Don Dunstan telling a group in favour of retaining the law that he would not be responsible for the death of another person.

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