The eight top Anglican bishops of New Zealand have come out against David Seymour’s proposed euthanasia bill but three other bishops have voiced their support.
The two very different submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill are a sign of the differences of opinion within the country’s second largest church and among its 450,000 adherents.
The eight bishops, the church’s top leaders, have told Parliament’s Justice select committee that more money should be put into palliative care and helping families looking after the terminally ill, rather than allowing euthanasia or assisted dying.
The submission – by the bishops of Dunedin, Christchurch, Waiapu, Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Te Waipounamu and Waikato/Taranaki – is one of 35,000 to the committee and among thousands made public this month.
But three other bishops – two former bishops, John Bluck and David Coles, and Assistant bishop of Auckland, Jim White – have published a contrary opinion saying for some people with a terminal illness, assisted dying “is a good and moral choice”.
“We are aware that most of our colleagues don’t agree with our position, but want to testify that there is a wide diversity of views on assisted dying in our churches,” they say in a submission, yet to be published by the select committee but printed in church magazine, Anglican Taonga.
They say that society gives people rights to make choices and take responsibility for their lives but then denies it at the end.
“Our own views are shaped by pastoral experience with dying people and wanting to honour their consistent desire to remain in charge of their lives and dignity for as long as possible… It is a deeply unfortunate fact that for some the “right to life” is translating into a duty for them to go on suffering and this has to end.”
The three bishops say they “follow a God who is all about ending suffering rather than intending it, or insisting it must always be endured” and they believe New Zealanders would support a new law.
In contrast, the eight Anglican bishops say they recognise the distress of patients and families but believe that allowing assisted dying could have unforeseen consequences and could damage society.
They say there is a moral principle. “In our view the protection of human life is a fundamental cornerstone of society…… Every person and every life is of worth, and to legalise medically assisted dying is to undermine this moral cornerstone and open the way to damaging outcomes.”
They say that if assisted dying is allowed then it could become socially acceptable and grow from a handful of cases to end up as “death on demand”.
“We acknowledge the tensions in this very difficult debate on how to maintain the principle of the worth of each individual along with adequate care for those in stressful situations.”
But “on balance” they believe the law should not go ahead and more money put into help for the terminally ill and families.
In another submission, an Anglican from Clutha says there is no single Christian position on assisted dying and advocates for allowing it.
Dr Bonnie Miller Perry says: “I have lost four close relatives to cancer – former wife (age 57), younger sister (age 58), youngest sister-in-law (age 53) and father. I am a Christian, and representative to the Anglican General Synod for the Upper Clutha Parish. I am therefore aware of the opinions of various bishops who are also making submissions to your Committee. There is no Christian position on this matter, despite what some submitters may say.
“I believe strongly in the dignity of the dying person to maintain control over their lives until the time when they cannot continue to do so. To prevent suffering from pain, needlessly, is a duty of all medical staff. The dignity of patients to make decisions in their own interest is fundamental to our humanity.”
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