Monday, November 15, 2021

Assisted Dying in Aotearoa New Zealand

I am pretty confident that when the NZ Catholic Bishops write a paper, the last thing they think about is what Archbishop Cranmer (aka the blog of that name, not the 16th century archbishop) will say about it. But say something Archbishop Cranmer did, when the NZ Catholic Bishops published "Ministers of Consolation and Hope Ngā Kaiārahi o te Aroha me te Tūmanako: Principles and Guidelines for those working with and ministering to people contemplating assisted dying."

The Catholic bishops proposed:

"With the advent of assisted dying in New Zealand, we find our beliefs about human life at odds in a new way with the law of our country. 

The law change provides us with an opportunity to renew our commitment to the dignity of every person in practical ways: advocating for equitably available effective palliative care; forming outward looking parishes that reach out to the lonely, sick, elderly and disabled and their whānau; supporting in prayer and other ways those who are engaged in caring for people at the end of life, including those contemplating assisted dying. 

At the same time, those ministering to the dying and their whānau will find themselves facing new challenges brought on by the introduction of euthanasia to our land. Aware, on the one hand, of the Church’s clear teaching about euthanasia and, on the other hand, equally aware of the Church’s clear teaching on accompaniment and the Christian duty to bear witness to the compassion and mercy of our loving God who never abandons his people, some priests, chaplains, spiritual companions and other lay ministers may find themselves in a place they would rather not be – a place of personal tension or struggle. 

The following guidelines draw on sacred Scripture, the Church’s long tradition of caring for the sick and dying, and the Magisterium’s insights concerning ‘accompaniment’, which all remind us that the role of every Christian minister is to be a bearer of the enduring hope and consolation that flows from our central belief in the power of the Lord’s resurrection."

So far so good (I reckon) and the detail in the paper is clear, careful and caring. There is much to learn from it and to put into practice in the light of it. But within the paper there is a proposal which perhaps will give many readers pause for thought and prayer (my italics):

"If an individual priest, chaplain, pastoral worker, healthcare professional or caregiver decides that there is a limit to their ability to accompany a person seeking assisted dying, such a decision should be fully respected. At the same time, they should ensure that provision is made for the person to be accompanied by another" (7.ii)

There is a bit to think about there, is there not? If I disagree with a person's choice to end their life, and my objection is a moral one, based on (say) my understanding of doctrine, or my concern that this choice is made under duress, the moral basis for my determination to not accompany them is a moral basis for not seeking a replacement.

That's about as far as I want to go re a critique of this document. Cranmer goes further. Here I want to make some supportive observations (with gratitude for the paper and the work that lies behind it) before concluding with a general concern about pastoral care post the legislation coming into effect just over a week ago.

1. Accompaniment of people on a journey towards death is a kind response to a person whether or not that journey involves a choice to hasten the end. No pastor should be penalised for setting aside their own convictions about that choice in order to be a minister of God for the dying person. Every pastor should be permitted to accompany a person choosing to bring their life to an end. (We should recall that the Act permits such choice only under circumstances which could be summed up a medically severe.)

2. Accompaniment (it seems to me, reflecting on other situations of accompanying people in life's journey) is a greater opportunity to influence a person to reconsider their decision than not accompanying them.

A general concern:

3. Yet ... there is a question of whether a commitment to accompany in such situations has a consequence NZ churches might not be comfortable with: the embedding of euthanasia as a morally correct option within our society. 

Worse: could the embedding of euthanasia as a morally correct option within our society diminish the possibility of palliative care as another option for the journey towards death? That question lurks within this article today on Stuff. Over time there is the prospect that euthanasia will become the only option for medical progress for the terminally ill and/or those experiencing an overwhelming suffering.

What are pastors to do?


Father Ron said...

When in doubt - apply the virtue of COMPASSION. I applaud the N.Z. Catholic Bishops' Statement on the Death and Dying'problem'. On a purely practical level, how many of the people opposing the new legislation have ever faced the problem confronting those experiencing dehumanising pain and suffering - either for themselves or their nearest and dearest?

After all, their are even biblical instances of people who have actually 'surrendered their lives' in martyrdom. Maybe this is not exactly an act of suicide but it is, after all, a 'voluntary giving up of one's life' for whatever reason.

Most of us would not allow our pets to suffer needlessly. Should we do less for our loved ones? Or are animals not supposed to be equal in their need for compassion?

Unknown said...

The Creator decides our beginnings and our ends. By creedal definition, disciples accept his providence for their lives.

Thus believers avoid abortion and euthanasia. As secular states cannot demand abandonment to providence, so they cannot reasonably deny abortion and euthanasia to godless citizens.

These matters are like many others (eg war, just or not) where disciples and the Body dwell in an ethos that is not that of citizens and their states. There can be some respect between the two, but there has never been agreement. Churches are more faithful to God and helpful to souls when they openly acknowledge the difference.


Unknown said...

So, more or less, a Roman Catholic priest accompanying a patient to euthanasia is escorting him out of the revealed Christian ethos (we belong to Christ; discipline is vital for the soul) into the Epicurean secular one (we belong to ourselves; discomfort is pointless evil).

In that situation, a priest may possibly understand his own duty as either (a) bearing witness to the truth and goodness of the ethos begun by Christ, or (b) being somewhat like Christ in not letting sin separate him from a sinner facing what is difficult for all of us. He can find some Catholic support for both understandings of what God's mercy enables, but none of it addresses what distinguishes this moment.

As I've noted in the past, this is the Supertopic of which many lesser topics (eg That Topic, abortion, euthanasia, sexual sins, etc) are instances. Christendom is gone. Should churches teach the ethos of Christ at the cost of some friction with the surrounding culture, or waive all that so that churchgoers can participate unimaginatively in the majority ethos?

At least in principle, many people are very consistent in their choice. But the Devil, as they say, is in the details.


Unknown said...


Upstream of most positions on the Supertopic lie a mostly undisputed observation and a rather blindly disputed thesis.

Nobody that I can recall offhand believes that democracies of any kind anywhere vote for much of anything with rigorous consistency. They do not defend dogmas. So a democratic ethos is, if not Pragmatic, at least pragmatic, and means that it fidgets and changes.

If the ethos of Jesus is an unchanging thing, possibly a code of conduct or a worldview, then it will always be defending itself against erosion.

But if Jesus himself inaugurated a perpetual change in all things, then, yes, there can be friction with other change, but preservation of the past for its own sake is not helpful.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Ron and Bowman for considered thoughts and illuminating insights!

There is more going on here than meets the eye ... and on one matter, Ron, I am concerned that a purely compassionate response may lead to an embedding of euthanasia into our collective psyche, with the result that the norm is an expectation that life should end when others will it.

"Grandma, we are really stressed about not being able to buy a house."

"You mean if I went now, you could gain your inheritance?"

"You got it!"

I imagine, Ron, as a man of wonderful possession of your faculties in senior age that you would not want our society to become one in which an age limit on life was put in place???

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, BW writes as modern liberal Protestant who apparently does not understand Catholic social thought. Opposition to abortion - the kiliing of innocent unborn human life - and to the state-assisted suicide of sick people is NOT based on belief or non-belief in "providence" (BW also misunderstands this doctrine) but on Natural Law, as St Thomas Aquinas shows in his discussion of the Decalogue and elsewhere.
Whether or not His Holiness really told Joe Biden he's a "good Catholic", I cannot say. But his enthusiasm for promoting abortion and for suing Catholic nuns sbows he has very little understanding of Catholic social teaching. His boat, however, is sinking quite fast. Maybe that is Ptovidence as well?
It is not "reasonable" to promote either abortion or suicide of the sick, it is decidedly UNreasonable, as St Thomas constantly shows that the divine gift of reason and the Scriptures are in harmonious agreement.
If we followed BW's logic, there would be no real grounds for opposing "euthanasia" for the mentally subnormal because those who don't believe in "providence" can't see the point of these lives either.
Seriously you don't need to be a Christian to see that killing unborn children or promoting suicide or slavery is wrong.
But if you think you can introduce state-sponsored suicide for the sick and not end up with disposing of the depressed and disabled, well, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Protestant social thought always falls short because of its inadequate philosophical basis. It was after all the Episcopalian Joseph Fletcher who gave the world the profound moral confusion that is "situation ethics", and the atheist-turned Catholic Alasdair Macintyre who restored virtue ethics to public awareness. I am not surprised that Michael Nazir-Ali saw that Protestant social ethics frequrntly ends up in confusion - because Protestant social thought is a chameleon that so often takes its colour from the world about it.
But this does not excuse the inadequate response of the New Zealand Catholic bishops. In times of stress national church leadership can go astray. It happened to the French Catholic Church during the Revolution and it took some years to recover its sense. I hope this will happen in NZ as well.

William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for your response to my comment. I cannot say how I, myself, might feel about asking for a peaceful termination of my life. However, if my suffering was really excruciating I would not want the doctor who mercifully brought an end to my life by an extra morphine injection to be hauled up on a charge of murder - because that is what was a distinct possibility in our previous legal situation. My real question here is, "What might Jesus do in this specific situation? Would he want the person to suffer further?"

I reflect on the fact that Jesus would have been roundly criticised by the scribes who wanted to stone to death the 'woman caught in an act of adultery'. Why would he have been criticised? Because his decision went 'against the LAW'. The changing of the law in Aotearoa/New Zealand is freeing those doctors who, in practice, have actually administered terminal anaesthesia to terminally ill patients in order to alleviate what they see as unbearable suffering.

Regarding the possibility of a family eyeing the patient with a view to the material benefit they might receive from an early death; that would be on their conscience, and a matter that the patient - being in their 'right mind' - would be able to prevent happening. After all, there are 'other ways' of obtaining permission from a dying person to obtain a financial benefit - even within the law. (The same consciences are involved).

Unknown said...

So, completing the thought, priests who agree on euthanasia per se nevertheless differ on their duty to a Catholic planning assisted suicide. Some see that Catholic mostly as an individual soul on the threshold of eternity; others as a member of the church-in-society. Both broad considerations are impeccably traditional, but for many the end of Christendom has tugged them into apparent opposition.

So priests majoring in the former come to final conclusions at odds with those of priests more committed to the latter. Between the poles of one-sided certitude, this tension is felt, not between pastors, but within them.

And so it is with nearly every issue of the Supertopic.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, I do encourage you (and others) to try again, this time with the assistance of what St Thomas has to say about the Natural Law and its *actual relation to divine providence (ST IaIIae 91,2), to human knowledge (ST IaIIae 94,4 for example), and as constituting the basic principles of rationality for human beings (not just Christians; see ST IaIIae 9O, 4).
I like to think that C. S. Lewis understood this point when he wrote 'The Abolition of Man', especially its appendix.
That the American Episcopal Church is indeed 'modern liberal Protestant' is obvious to anyone who has tried (as I have) to make sense of the maunderings of a Jack Spong or a Katherine Jefferts-Schori.
BTW, Confucius said that if there was one thing he could insist upon for a rightly ordered society, it would be giving things their correct names.
What is abortion up to birth, as in Virginia under outgoing Governor Ralph Northam or in New York State under former Governor Andrew Cuomo anything other than infanticide? Is BW happy with that? The ancient world was: there was no stigma attached to the exposing of unwanted newborns (usually female). Did Christians acquiesce in that, reasoning, 'Oh they're pagans, they don't know any better and it's not up to us to resist it'? No, of course not. They understood instinctively how Natural Law (a participation in God's Eternal Law) worked.
And in calling things by their "proper name", we should reject the euphemism "assisted dying". This is accelerated dying and state-sponsored suicide - something that ancients fully approved of, as well.
And so the world has gone full circle.
To understand why thoughtful Anglicans have made their way into the Ordinariate it is only necessary to survey the moral confusions of modern liberal Protestantism.

William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

William said: "Indeed, I do encourage you (and others) to try again"

Dear William, I want to answer your demand by tell inf a litle story:

The was a woman in the crowd where Jesus was teaching who had been caught in the unlawful
act of adultery. There were the Scribes and the Pharisees - amoing them 'William the Scribe' who was non-plussed when Jesus, in apparent disregard for the LAW, challenged the LAW (and those desperate to enforce it against the women, not the man involved) by inviting the onlookers to throw the first stone - BUT ONLY IF THEY THEMSELVES WERE WITHOUT SIN.

In a society (CON/EVO?) where sexual sins were seemingly the most offensive, what Jesus was doing here was exemplary in its compassion for the 'sinner' (note the man involved was not so dealt with, at least in this instance. So much for sexual sins.

Compassion was also discerned in the story of the Publican and the Pharisee - where the Pharisee, who did everything the LAW demanded, would have looked askance at the verdict, when Jesus proclaimed the 'sinner' to be justified over the Keeper of The Law.

Seemingly, it was always the 'self-righteous' who stood by the letter of the LAW, that suffered the indignation of Jesus.

Another story can be told asbout the soldier, mortally wounded in combat and suffering greatly - knowing that worse could happen if he was overtaken by the advancing enemy - had to request his commanding officer to do the compassionate thing and free him from further suffering. Would that officer, having regard for his soldier, be content to abandon him to the 'mercy' of the enemy'? This is not a hypothetical situation, but one that actually has happened in trench warfare.

I remember, at All Saints, Margaret Street in the U.K. in the course of our lectures at the 'Institute of Christian Studies', taking part in an ethics seminar which discussed this very topic. A woman doctor confessed that, in the case of a terminally ill patient who was suffering to a degree that the doctors thought too great a burden on the pastient, she would arrange for medication that would not only relieve the suffering but could be the direct cause of the death of the patient. The determined enactment of the import of the 'Hypocratic Oath', a wonderful preserver of life, could in fact be the instrument of further suffering for the patient. Under the LAW, a doctor, acting under the force of compassion (and not self-interest) could be prosecuted for this, but you will find that very few cases are brought before the courts.

This does not mean that Palliative Care Homes might no longer be necessary. In fact, for me personally, this would provide outcome for those whose tender consicence would not permit them to seek a more speedy end to their suffering. During our studies at ASMS, wer also visited the Dorothy Kerin Hospice at Burrswood, in Kent, where people who were apparently terminally ill seemed to be offered the hope of an extension of life in comfortable surroundings. However, this required the patient to have their own resources to pay for this wonderful palliative service. (The Dorothy Kerin Home has now been purchased by a business entity, to be run for a profit).

If, William, you want to prescribe the extension of suffering for others; then perhaps you must be prepared to accept the same degree of suffering for yourself. Are you prepared for that? And might God not forgive you if you succumbed to the alleviation of your suffering?

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
I acknowledge that the Thomist approach has all sorts of strengths, and it may be that "natural law" is the solution to all ethical problems (I am not a Thomist and cannot comment much either way).

But you seem to be saying (am I right?) that one should not only be a Catholic but also a Thomist Catholic?

After all, every NZ Catholic Bishop is Catholic but in your eyes they appear somewhat derelict in their theo-ethical understanding.

My point then is that mere admission to the Ordinariate/Roman Catholic Church is not in itself a guard against error.

Of course it may be that to be an American Episcopalian or a Kiwi Anglican is to be in a theological space where one has to work superhard to avoid error, especially to avoid being an actual "modern liberal Protestant."

But, much as I admire Thomas from a distance, and think there is something to "natural law" (being an admirer of CS Lewis), I rather fancy my chances of understanding God's truth in the variety of situations (that word deliberately chosen) we humans find ourselves in, from my Anglican starting point.

I rather fancy Bowman is happy with his starting point which most assuredly is not reducible to "modern liberal Protestantism."

Unknown said...

"So, completing the thought..."

Sagacious Archbishop Cranmer commented on 7.ii.

+ Peter posted obliquely on that widely-remarked comment.

And now, more directly, I have.

I look forward to reading + Peter's next OP.

A blessed week to all.


Father Ron said...

In caseWilliam has o access to his chirf Bishop's message to the world on the matter of Jesus' closeness to 'the least of these (His) sisters and brothers in the world', here is Pope Francis' message for today:


“Jesus, the God-with-us, gives us strength, his Heart gives us courage in adversity. So many uncertainties frighten us: in this time of the pandemic we have found ourselves to be smaller, more fragile… That is why we need consolation… The Heart of Jesus beats for us, always repeating those words: “Courage, courage, do not be afraid, I am here!” Courage, sister, courage, brother, do not lose heart, the Lord your God is greater than your ills, He takes you by the hand and caresses you, He is close to you, He is compassionate, He is tender. He is your comfort.”
Pope Francis... "

No lack of compassion here. Would that his fellow Catholics would all hear the message,

Anonymous said...

In his OP on the margin, Ed Feser summarises Peter Geach's argument against non-traditional arguments from revelation. This is a succinct example of one alternate view mentioned in my 11/16 at 6:38 am.