This may come as a surprise to some readers of this article, but it is true that Christians support voluntary euthanasia. Community support is 82% but crucially a substantial majority of people who identify as Christian support the right of doctors to provide a lethal dose, according to a 2012 Newspoll.
Included in this support are nearly nine out of 10 Anglicans and perhaps more surprisingly, three out of four Catholics.
What we do find is a dichotomy between the views of many of the senior religious hierarchy and their flock on this issue. However, in a very significant move, some prominent Anglicans have broken ranks.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the world's most eminent religious leaders, has made an extraordinary intervention in the debate over assisted death, by backing the right of the terminally ill to end their lives in dignity. He writes; "I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying. I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost."
Lord Carey former Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the world wide Anglican church, speaking in support of the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill before the House of Lords, UK, said: it would not be "anti-Christian" to ensure that terminally ill patients avoid "unbearable" pain, and "One of the key themes of the gospels is love for our fellow human beings ... Today we face a terrible paradox. In strictly observing accepted teaching about the sanctity of life, the church could actually be sanctioning anguish and pain – the very opposite of the Christian message."
Senior Anglican, Canon Rosie Harper, in a video interview, described the assisted death of her uncle with Dignitas in Switzerland. "My uncle had a beautiful death, with his family around him - good music, good wine, and a pain-free end. The days that would have followed as he struggled through the end stage of a brain tumour would have been terrible. He had no choice about dying. He did have choice about the manner of his death. That's all this bill is offering."
She argued that a God who offered "freedom of will" would not insist on "extreme suffering" at the end of life when there was a different, better way. Addressing the arguments against, she continued, "First there is the contention that pain can always be controlled. We know that simply is not the case. Anyway - in what way is there value in a person being technically still alive if they are sedated to the point of oblivion? What this bill proposes is infinitely more honourable than what routinely happens now when a dying person is gradually and cruelly starved to death," concluded Canon Harper.
In another significant development, we find that religious opposition to proposed legislation in Australia has moved away from Biblical quotes, such as "Thou Shalt not Kill, or more accurately "not murder", as this is one of the easiest arguments to rebut, with many instances of killing including genocide reported in the Bible. Instead opposition tends to misrepresent the true situation and the facts from Oregon, Belgium and other jurisdictions with legal assisted dying.
In Quebec, formerly the most Catholic province in Canada, we find an Act respecting End of Life Care, legalising assisted dying, was passed in June 2014 by the Quebec Parliament in a non party vote, by 94 votes to 22, with a standing ovation. Surely a vote that politicians in South Australia could emulate?
Finally, I leave you with this photo of Chantal Sebire, pleading for help to die after enduring years of suffering with an aggressive nasal cancer, that left her blind with her jaw disintegrating. This inspired me to become involved. It is my hope that Chantal will inspire our MPs to pass legislation giving us legal compassionate choice in dying.
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