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?