euthanasia VAD

Euthanasia: Darkness on the Far Side of Midnight

25 February 2022

13.3 MINS

As the New South Wales Parliament debates the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill, we review why euthanasia and assisted suicide are fundamentally wrong, eroding our society’s care and concern for the elderly, disabled, mentally ill and vulnerable.

As I write, the Parliament of New South Wales opens the process of passing or rejecting the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021.

We thank God it didn’t pass in December, but a temporary ‘stay of execution’ isn’t enough; this potential legislation must be stopped.

Let me say from the outset, this topic is a keg of gunpowder, filled with emotions that cover the whole gamut of our inadequate human condition.

Mercy Killing

As we hope that everyone loves and feels compassion for our fellow man, our family and loved ones, it’s easier and more comfortable to believe in ‘the best of intentions’.

This topic smacks us in the face. It brings to the surface our own physical frailty and earthly limitations. It forces us to confront our own death; hence the natural, almost guttural response to the questions posed.

“Do you want people to suffer?”

“Isn’t this their choice?”

“What about dignity and quality of life?”

“If you’re a Christian, how can you want people to live with pain and disabilities that we can help in this civilised society?”

So, let me state from the outset that the Canberra Declaration is pro-life, and that without apology. God is our Creator, and He knew us from the womb; He knows us and loves us. We believe in the Bible and God’s promises of eternity; our lives are sacred to Him.

A Painful Passing

The title of my story is how I felt, some four and a half years ago.

Mum was 88 when she passed away from here, into the arms of her Saviour. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer some two years before, she had a tumour the size of a large rockmelon. That diagnosis came out of the blue, with no indication or warning, no pain.

Mum struggled with depression and anxiety. Though she had kept it in check for decades, she spiralled rapidly into tragic depths. Trying to get treatment for her was a dance with inadequacy and apathy.

When mum went into a high care facility, we were assured that she would have 24/7 care. Palliative care was in operation there. That gave us peace of mind. When pain became the issue, it could be alleviated.

When she could no longer eat, or barely drink, the staff rang and said they were moving her to the palliative care room. This was about three or four in the afternoon.

Are we ever prepared for this? I don’t think so.

Mum was not only lucid, but she also wasn’t in much discomfort. However, mum was very noisy at night. Calling out for me, disturbing the other residents…

We envisioned her being there for a few days as nature took its course, but with the pain alleviated. Instead, she was immediately given a shot to calm her down, as she was very scared and upset. Mum fought the meds with everything she had, continually yelling: “No!

We prayed and sang to her as she settled, then it happened all over again. My middle son arrived some hours later to say goodbye, and comfort us and his nana. By that time, she had succumbed to several rounds of morphine or midazolam. This was terrifying to her, to us.

There was no gentle way; it was almost coordinated ‘convenience’.

As I was near collapse, Ivan insisted on taking me home around 10.30pm. Upon leaving, I begged staff to sit with her, that she not pass alone. They gladly assented to my request.

The enemy whispered: ‘Could you not even wait with me over the night?’ Immediately, the attack came.

On the darkest side of midnight, she left. We felt no dignity. There was no peace, not from this experience. We were consumed by grief and guilt.

It took me three years to come to terms with this truth. God alone has given me peace, knowing she’s waiting for us. Were she given the chance of coming back to this poor fallen world, I’m certain she would laugh at the opportunity: “for in the presence of the Lord is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)

A Frightful Prospect

The NSW Parliament stands on the precipice, looking into the abyss in the dark hours past midnight.

Many other states have made the decision to launch into this, boots and all; many countries carry out voluntary assisted dying and are rife with examples of abuse. There are horrible stories from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada.

When we legalise the authority and responsibility for taking or helping to take another person’s life, however well-intentioned the legislation, it will without a doubt be abused. We do not even practise capital punishment in Australia anymore.

Greed, inhumanity, inconvenience, and devaluing human worth, come in a folder placed upon a table rocking with instability, rotted sin and shifting moral standards. Doctors are prone to make less-than-noble decisions, because they are human.

Here is an article that is both pertinent and personal, by a doctor who opposed South Australia’s bill.

Excerpts from Dissenting Statements on proposed VAD Bill 2021
New South Wales Parliament

A fundamental change to law, medicine and society

Stakeholders argued that the bill would fundamentally change the criminal law in New South Wales by effectively creating a new character category of justifiable homicide, creating broad exceptions to the criminal law prohibitions of murder, as well as of aiding, abetting, inciting or counselling another person to commit suicide.

The Australian Care Alliance argued that, as the bill would bring about profound changes to the criminal law, it should be subject to the most careful scrutiny, and that proper tests for its safety ought to be the same ones that are usually applied to any proposal to reintroduce capital punishment:

  • Can we craft a law that will ensure there will not be even one wrongful death?
  • Can we ensure that any deaths under this law are humane — that is, both rapid and peaceful?

The committee also heard that introducing VAD may send a dangerous message to people who are sick, in that they may feel compelled to access the scheme because they felt like a burden to their loved ones.

Opponents of the bill argued that there is a risk that terminally ill people may see others accessing the scheme, and fear they too are become a burden to the family and therefore make a choice to access the scheme that is not truly voluntary.

Doctor Gregory Pike, Director of the Adelaide Centre for Bioethics and Culture, stated,

“It is not hard to see how many how mistakes may be made and how someone might slip through the net. People are made to feel they really ought to go so as to stop burdening others, and made to feel they are consuming resources that might be better spent on other  lives, made to feel they have no remaining value, and so death becomes a benefit.”

Stakeholders suggested that the existence of such a scheme and the option of being able to access it represents a subtle influence or pressure that could suggest to people that it is an option they should take.

It was stated that research in jurisdictions where VAD has been legalised has shown that internalised sense of burden has been referred to as a reason for accessing the scheme. Opponents of the bill argued that this reflects a fundamental failure of public policy, and a disruption to the general social principle of ensuring vulnerable people are cared for.

They also stated that VAD represents a dangerous departure from the general social principle of counselling people against ending their life.

Encouraging Suicide

The Anscombe Centre submitted:

“There is good evidence that legalising assisted suicide will increase rates of self-initiated death and will not help prevention of non-assisted suicide.”

Their evidence includes a detailed study by David Albert Jones and David Patten titled ‘How Does Legalisation of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide?

Opponents of the bill argued that if the New South Wales government facilitates suicides under this bill, it would undermine commitments under the national mental health and suicide prevention plan to aim for zero suicides within healthcare settings, reducing the availability, accessibility and understanding that suicide is preventable.

They also argued that the bill would create a two-system model where some people will be excluded from all suicide prevention efforts, and their suicides will be actively facilitated by the New South Wales government, sending ‘the message that some people would be better off dead and that suicide can be a peaceful, beautiful thing and a wise choice.’

The committee was told that VAD also poses a significant risk to people living with mental health issues. The bill does not adequately screen people who may have depression, which affects their decision-making capacity and therefore could result in people wrongfully accessing VAD.

Subtle Pressure

The committee heard that problems of coercion can be subtle and so difficult to detect:

“At one end there is no pressure or influence; at the other extreme is coercion and undue influence. Between those two ends, some degree of influence or pressure may occur that is not picked up with statutory definition. These influences may be overt or covert.”

Dr Sarah Windham, a specialist palliative care physician practising in the far west local health district, explained this to the committee:

“How can a single clinician who is discussing VAD with the patient provide them with sufficient relevant information regarding all the possible treatment options for their illness or palliative care, to allow them to make an informed choice, when that clinician is not trained in the specialty of the patient’s disease, nor is trained in specialist palliative care?

I cannot and would not speak on behalf of another specialist in another field. That would be medical negligence.”

Further, the bill allows medical practitioners to initiate discussion about VAD in some circumstances.

A False Choice

Ms Therese Smeal, a palliative care clinical nurse, gave evidence that:

The workforce shortage in palliative care, particularly in outer regional and remote areas of New South Wales, raises serious questions about equity in the provision of and access to palliative care. This is a significant problem in its own right.

It also raises serious questions about legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in a situation where access to palliative care for those that end of life or suffering from a life-limiting illness is neither universal nor equitable…

If there is no effective access to palliative care for some people, whether they are in the regional areas or in the cities it is difficult to see how ensuring that assisted dying is available to all offers suffering people a genuine choice, or genuinely respects their autonomy.

If the choice is between assisted dying on one hand and the absence of effective pain and symptom control and accompaniment by family and carers on the other, it is a false choice and one which is unjust to offer.

Opponents of the bill suggested:

‘Given the New South Wales scheme more closely reflects the Western Australian model, we could see the sort of massive expansion in assisted suicide case numbers we have seen under the Canadian suicide and lethal injection (euthanasia) scheme.’

Opponents to the bill cited data from other jurisdictions, demonstrating that it was not primarily requested due to concerns about pain or other physical symptoms, but rather for concerns such as a decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable, loss of autonomy and loss of dignity.

In Oregon, the majority of those requesting a prescription of a lethal substance to end their life made the request because they felt they were a physical or emotional burden on family friends or caregivers.

The ACC cited a recent report on elder abuse, demonstrating a correlation between all abuse subtypes and low social support including social isolation and loneliness. They drew attention to a similar correlation with requests for euthanasia, as indicated in a 6th annual report for Quebec. It stated that nearly one in four people requested to have their lives ended by euthanasia because they are experiencing isolation or loneliness.

Without Dignity

No poison can be guaranteed to cause a rapid, tasteful and humane death. Opponents to the bill cited evidence on the various poisons used to cause death in other jurisdictions that have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide.

They argued that this evidence shows that ‘so far there is no evidence of a poison that will result in a rapid peaceful and humane death on every occasion it is used.’

As reported in the article Anaesthesia, cited by the ACC:

‘Patients related to assisted dying methods were found to include difficulty in swallowing the prescribed dose, a relatively high incidence of vomiting, prolongation of death by as much as seven days, and failure to induce coma where patients re-awoke and even sat up; this raises concerns that some deaths may be inhumane.’

The ACC said official reports from the Netherlands comment on several cases of the muscle relaxant administered when the person was not in a full coma, potentially causing pain, including spasms or muscular twitching.

Attack on Christian Values

Archbishop Anthony Fisher stated that Part 5 of the bill ‘is not only an egregious attack on the religious freedom of religious care facilities, particularly residential age care facilities; it will result in the undermining of the culture of care in these facilities that have served New South Wales so well.

‘Faith-based residential care facilities should not be required to allow any aspect of euthanasia or assisted suicide on their premises, because to do so would require faith-based institutions and those who own, operate and reside in them to act against their own beliefs.’

General religious opposition to VAD.

The committee heard evidence from stakeholders who outlined the general religious objection to voluntary assisted dying, first and foremost being that VAD is fundamentally at odds with their central beliefs.

Opponents of the bill explained that these religious beliefs also underpin some of the arguments regarding the need to care for sick and vulnerable people in other ways than VAD, and the negative impact of VAD on the broader social fabric.

A number of religious leaders and organisations put on record their opposition to the bill. This included the Catholic Bishops of New South Wales and the Bishops of the Australian Middle East Christian Apostolic churches, the Grand Mufti of Australia, the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales, the Baptist Association of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, the Presbyterian Church of Australia in the State of New South Wales and the Anglican Archdiocese of Sydney.

Rabbi Nochum Schapiro, President of the Rabbinical Council, explained:

“What changed is the fact that the vision of the Bible spread throughout the world. That vision is that man is created in the image of God. Every human being is part of God on earth, and he is given a mission: to bring godliness and goodness and light into this world.

This has slowly caught on through the other great religions. The whole society has begun to see the value of every life. Because of that, we changed in a very positive way and we — society as a whole — value every life. In the same way, we must value every moment of life.”

What happens when we consider ourselves to be ‘less than’ divinely created? Enter eugenics, and the fruit of Evolution, survival of the fittest. The frail are taken from the hands of the Almighty and placed in the hands of humans, not explicitly known for compassion and infallibility.

Here is a document that was approved last September and released in December 2021. It has only recently become readily available outside of Ireland. It speaks of society paying a heavy cost:

Excerpt from Assisted Dying Bill, House of Lords, 22nd October 2021.

The Archbishop of Canterbury:

“My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness Lady Meacher and listened with great attention to her extremely powerful speech. This is an issue on which many of us have personal experience, often painful and difficult. There is unanimity on these benches that our current law does not need to be changed, but I know that people of faith hold differing views. No doubt we will hear from them today and I’ll look forward to them.

Everyone here shares the best of intentions. We should recognise that in how we listen and respond to each other. I hope no one will seek to divide the house today, but I welcome the amendment from the noble Lord Winston because it draws our focus toward our use of language. We need to clarify the precision in our terms.

Christ calls His followers to compassion, but compassion must not be drawn too narrowly — a point made indirectly and powerfully by Lady Meacher. It must extend beyond those who want the law to provide help to end their lives to the whole of society, especially those who might be put at risk. Our choices affect other people. The common good demands that our choices, rights and freedoms must be balanced with those of others, especially those who may not be so easily heard.

Sadly, I believe this bill to be unsafe. As a curate and parish priest, I spent time with the dying, the sick, and the bereaved — I still do. All of us have had personal experience; I have as well. We know that the sad truth is that not all people are perfect, not all families are happy, not everyone is kind and compassionate.

No amount of safeguards can perfect the human heart. No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible. No amount of safeguards can perfect the human heart and no amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible. No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe and equally valued if the law is changed in this way.

All of us here are united in wanting compassion and dignity for those coming to the end of their lives, but it does not serve compassion if by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I expose others to danger, and it does not serve dignity if in granting the wishes of one closest to me, I devalue the status and safety of others. I hope your Lordships will reflect on this and, while recognising the good intentions we all share, resist the Changes that Bill seeks to make.”

Australia is not alone; as our population ages, we run the risk of creating a ‘Logan’s Run’ society — shuffle off, renew, don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you!

From Womb to Tomb

Abortion was supposed to be rare and safe; every state government massively moved the goalposts on that one. Now it’s abortion on demand up to the moment of birth, and even attempts to protect a child born alive after abortion are under attack. These very same people now hold the lives of our most vulnerable in their hands. It seems clear that once given an inch, elements in our society want the whole backyard, again.

Perhaps you have not had the opportunity to read some dissenting views; I hope these few, together with the linked articles, will bring home the reality of just how badly this slippery slope can be fraught with danger.

Farewell, Mum

When I discussed Mum’s passing with the director of the nursing home, it was traumatic. She was a lovely lady in so many ways, but toughened by her role. She stated that it was Mum’s fault for not passing ‘better’.

“She fought the medication! God, she had enough for three people! She didn’t want to go!” she laughed, saying that mum would be missed; she kept them on their toes.

Ivan and I finally scattered her ashes in the surf at Caves Beach only six weeks ago; I couldn’t let her go. Her wishes were to join my dad, who was lost at sea in a boating accident in 1973.

Three of the last four and a half years were consumed with bouts of grief and guilt.

This song is dedicated to my mother, Heather Merle Bush.

I Cry Unto You Lord ~ music by Ivan Robson, lyrics by Leonie Robson (© 2022)


Can assisted dying — even palliative care — go wrong? Yes.

It’s an abyss. More power gives greater opportunity for misuse and abuse. Enough can and does already go wrong.

My solace is in God’s love for her and me, gently taking each of us by the hand. Leading us beside still waters and restoring us to Him, be it in Heaven or here on earth.


Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels.

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