Why has the anti-euthanasia case been so unsuccessful?



This is an excerpt of Margaret Somerville's full essay, available to read here.

The case for legalising euthanasia is easy to make in contemporary postmodern Western democracies, especially those in which moral relativism and utilitarianism are the main philosophies informing the dominant worldview of a given society.

Woman lying in hospital bed (Getty Images)

Moral relativism takes a stance that nothing is absolutely or inherently wrong, rather what is right or wrong all depends on the circumstances and the individual person’s preferences. Utilitarianism in the context of euthanasia proposes that euthanasia is a means that has an outcome or end goal of reducing suffering and, therefore, can be justified and is ethical. The discussion and analysis of the impact of legalising euthanasia is limited to only the present time — I call this restriction ‘presentism.’ What we could learn from both our ‘collective human memory’ (the past or history) and through our ‘collective human imagination’ (the likely impact in the future) are ignored or denied.

The pro-euthanasia case is promoted and buttressed by stories of ‘bad’ natural deaths, those where great suffering is experienced, and ‘good’ euthanasia deaths, those were suffering is promptly and completely eradicated through the intentional extinguishing of life, itself, by using euthanasia. The media, which overall has a bias towards legalising euthanasia, are especially prone to presenting euthanasia as a topic for discussion in the public square in this manner, that is, with a focus on an individual suffering person and only taking into account the immediate impact in the present of providing that person with euthanasia.

The case against euthanasia is much more difficult to promote, not because it is weak — it is not — but because it is much more complex.

This case requires looking, not just to the present, but also to our ‘collective human memory’ for lessons from the past and to our ‘collective human imagination’ to try to anticipate the full and wider consequences of legalising euthanasia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have much to teach non-Indigenous Australians in this regard.

While the individual person and their wishes and respect for their right to autonomy are always important considerations they are not alone sufficient considerations, if we are to make wise decisions as a society with respect to the legalisation of euthanasia or, if legalised, its governance. That requires taking into account the immediate and long-term, wider ramifications of authorising physicians, and in some cases nurses, to end the life of another person through administering lethal medications with a primary intention to cause death.


'We must also keep in mind that in a secular society, such as Australia, law and medicine carry the value of respect for life for society as a whole.'


These ramifications include the effects on healthcare professionals and the healthcare professions; on the institutions in which they practice, such as hospitals and aged care homes; on society and the shared values on which it is based and which create the glue which bonds us as a community; and even on our global reality. There is a dearth of literature in these regards. A 2021 book, The Other Side of Euthanasia (see reference below) recounting stories from frontline healthcare professionals in Belgium where euthanasia has been normalised as a way to die, makes an important contribution to starting to fill these lacunae.

Of particular concern in relation to the wider impact of legalising euthanasia is the possibility of its being ‘thrust on’ or ‘seeping into’ the lives of fragile and vulnerable people — those who are poor, uneducated, or least vocal. For example, doctors in Belgium have admitted to euthanising people in a coma on a ventilator, without any family present to defend their best interests. We cannot afford to trivialise or underestimate the dangers of the abuse of legalised euthanasia.

We must also keep in mind that in a secular society, such as Australia, law and medicine carry the value of respect for life for society as a whole. Euthanasia destroys their capacity to do that as the law is changed to allow intentionally taking life and medicine implements that permission in practice. If euthanasia is legal, it should be kept out of medicine and a new profession created to undertake it. Euthanasia is not medical treatment and it should have no role in palliative care. Indeed, the philosophical bases of palliative care, to live as well as possible until we die a natural death, and euthanasia, to choose death rather than life, are in direct conflict.

It is also essential to recognise that the value of respect for life must be upheld at two levels: for the life of each individual person and for human life, in general, in society. Euthanasia damages respect for life at both these levels.




Margaret Somerville AM, FRSC, DCL is an internationally known bioethicist and currently Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Medicine. She is based at the Sydney campus.

(This section is an edited version of Margaret Somerville and E Wesley Ely, Forward 2, in Timothy Devos, Editor, Euthanasia: Searching for the Full Story: Experiences and Insights of Belgian Doctors and Nurses, Springer Cham, Switzerland 2020 pp. ix —xv.  The online edition is available free of charge.)

Main image: Woman lying in hospital bed (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Margaret Somerville, VAD, euthanasia, medically assisted suicide, medically assisted dying, ethics



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Thank you for publishing this important work!
Rob McCahill | 03 June 2021

Another cunning plan of the media is to acknowledge opposing views by prefacing them with a reference to ‘religion’. “ Some religious groups are opposing these legislative changes” -without reference to the content of the opposition, which often are not specifically ‘religious’. Any arguments counter to euthanasia which are not posed by religious groups at all are often not mentioned at all. I’d guess most people in Australia believe euthanasia is opposed mainly by religious people because ‘God doesn’t like it’. For lazy minds, this is quite easy to ignore. Thank you, Margaret, for this excellent -and non-religious -argument against euthanasia.
Joan Seymour | 03 June 2021

The case against euthanasia has been unsuccessful because it's ethically bankrupt and grounded in a cruel, reactionary religious conservatism that has no place in a civilised society. The association of death with sin and evil, the valorisation of suffering as God-given and ennobling... this is what lies behind anti-euthanasia sentiment, and people can smell it a mile off.
Sian Melmont | 03 June 2021

There is, in my opinion, one reason why the anti-euthanasia campaign has been unsuccessful, and it has nothing to do with relativism, utilitarianism or any other ethical theory. It has to do with so many people have been watching their loved ones die under palliative care which requires a doctor to "titrate" doses of pain killers by a trial and error method and the restrictions that palliative care societies have imposed on their members for the earlier use of terminal sedation: see "Why Do I Have to Keep Waking Up: Terminal Sedation and the Law in Australia." Journal of Law and Medicine (2019) Oct;27(1):178-191. The slower the death, the more protection there is for the doctor under our present law and professional guidelines.
Kieran Tapsell | 03 June 2021

High quality palliative care is the answer to those perplexed and tormented about the prospect of a difficult death. We should never make light of the battering that the prospect of death poses for us all and many people have experienced trauma in seeing loved ones die a very painful death. Rather than turn to euthanasia though our health resources should be structured towards the dignity of care and comfort for the person who is dying and support and understanding for their loved ones.
Pam | 03 June 2021

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I think the claims that VAD is not medical treatment, and that VAD and palliative care are in conflict, are opinions, and not ones I share. When people have the chance to have a VAD they are already very ill. If the people that have been treating them, and know them, and care for them, are willing to accompany the person through the VAD process, it would be cruel to stop that from happening. In that scenario the patient would probably move from palliative care into a (hopefully loving) VAD process, seamlessly. If the whole process is a loving one, where exactly is the harm to society in allowing a dying person the easy death that they are requesting?
Russell | 03 June 2021

The short answer is that the "anti euthanasia" case became difficult to promote when we were unwilling (or possibly unable) to distinguish between euthanasia in a strict sense and voluntary assisted dying.I am not suggesting either is morally acceptable, but the issues are different..To exercise personal autonomy by obtaining a substance that enables the ending of life is hard to distinguish in secular morality from making a conscious decision to forego medical treatment in the certain knowledge that death will result from this refusal. To ask another person actively to bring about one's death is morally different and I believe far more Australians . would find this unacceptable and dangerous. Yet all the 'horror stories and tales of the infamous slippery slope come from this latter regime as practised in Belgium or the Netherlands. Not surprisingly they have been seen as irrelevant to Australian discussion.
Margaret | 03 June 2021

while arguments may be seen as complex it does not do away with them needing to be clear, logical and able to be summarised.
Charles Rue | 04 June 2021

"If euthanasia is legal, it should be kept out of medicine and a new profession created to undertake it." Precisely, Prof Somerville. We once had a specialised profession dedicated to removing perfectly healthy evil doers from our society. However, throughout the world this profession became obsolete through public demand from Christianity backed by the civil law. The practitioners were called hangmen. In today's world, however, the law has abandoned its role as the protector and champion of human life and has given the world the killing rights associated with abortion and euthanasia. Christianity has sadly also abandoned its erstwhile role in the secular world. I fear we have gone too far already to make a moral comeback.
john frawley | 04 June 2021

Sadly the debate keeps hinging on a "right to die" rather than the "right to kill". i.e agency has been omitted.
peter smith | 04 June 2021

In response to Sian Melmont’s comment, may I say that this anti-euthanasia view is not a “sentiment”; it is a well thought-out, objective and intelligent reflection based on reason and the values held by many, including medical practitioners who are not religious. Many people who are “anti-euthanasia” or have serious concerns about VAD have no religious affiliation. It seems to me that Sian’s emotional comment is based on pure anti-religious prejudice rather than sound reasoning.
Charles Fivaz | 04 June 2021

Hello Margaret: yes, I agree the anti-euthanasia case has failed to win “the hearts and minds of the People”. Over the last five decades, the anti-abortion case has likewise failed, as has the anti-same-sex marriage case; as also happened with opponent voices of the Whitlam government’s Family Law Act. But, it does not have much to do with philosophy (hearts and minds are not that much moved by rational debate) it has to do with trust. The anti-voices have lost it. Andrew consulting editor of Eureka Street has now joined the Vietnam War Peace Movement - fifty years after the war ended. Back then, there was also the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Gay Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution, which was really about freedom from neurotic sexual inhibition not permissiveness. To the changes which these movements have over time introduced the anti-voices have responded by fortifying their siege walls. At least with these aspects of our lives that collective entity “the People” has moved elsewhere. The anti-voice is an aging, dwindling demographic talking to itself. Over the last year I have posted comments from the “bad” world outside the siege walls only to be met with censorship, and even having to justify being a catholic. I am just a silly old man whose thoughts don’t really matter. The Church though has a longer term problem. It has to justify the billons it now gets in government funding to an increasingly secular world where the influence of the 60’s movement s will only deepen. “The People” beyond the siege walls may well conclude that education, health and welfare can be done by dedicated teachers, nurses, doctors and social workers without popes, cardinals and priests.
Fosco | 04 June 2021

Margaret Somerville has gone beyond airing the usual arguments associated with a Catholic dismissal of any and all forms of legislatively approved euthanasia. On three occasions, Margaret intrudes observations which deserve to be taken seriously. At the beginning of her article, Margaret asks how could the anti euthanasia argument be so unsuccessful? Later, in the longer version she notes “...people of both sides of the euthanasia debate are well intentioned and believe they are fighting for the greater good.” And towards the end, on the back of a a tacit admission she writes “...even though we might have lost the battle against legalising euthanasia, our work is not over. We must now work to prevent its expansion.” But! Is it likely that a thorough analysis of why the anti arguments have been and continue to be so spectacularly unsuccessful will take place? Sadly, not. More of the same laments about tidal waves of utilitarian thinking and overdoses of moral relativism will probably dominate the review despatches. At some future stage the Catholic memory may be jolted into remembering that our point of departure is not a bevy of philosophical axioms; they have their role, but at pride of place is the revealed awareness that the path of dying leads to a moment when “life is changed not ended” - And that is a story accessible to the ordinary voting public.
Bill Burke | 04 June 2021

Perchance some religious people do hold the miserable God-forsaken views that Sian Melmont attributes to them, but we simply don't know, in consequence of which Ms Melmont may reasonably be said to be working on a hunch. The religious persons I know, though I have the integrity to say that they may not constitute a representative sample, generally enjoy life hugely, whether young or elderly and terminally ill or not. And, like many, perhaps even a majority, of Catholics (whom I know best) in this day and age, I am not beyond dissenting privately and sometimes publicly with the Church's magisterium. As for Kieran Tapsell's much more interesting differentiation, the trouble with it is that it endorses the possessive individualist approach to life-termination that Somerville herself comprehensively critiques by addressing the case for protection of life in general as a social and not just an individual right and obligation. Thanks.
Michael Furtado | 04 June 2021

The case for euthanasia, even supposedly Christian claims in support of it, is characterised by a lack of trust - despite the witness and promise of Christ himself - that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that God's personal care for us, no matter what the adversity, can be trusted and endures. Nobody said this would be easy. Does our "compassion" extend to praying for and accompanying the dying, and ensuring they have access to appropriate palliative care?
John RD | 04 June 2021

Bill Burke: ‘but at pride of place is the revealed awareness that the path of dying leads to a moment when “life is changed not ended” - And that is a story accessible to the ordinary voting public.’ This idea that if only the ordinary voting public can come to believe in God, they will forsake the utilitarian arguments for euthanasia isn’t going to work. Many of the OVP believe in God and hold to utilitarian arguments for abortion and the sacramental normalisation of same sex relationships. Many of the OVP believe that the utilitarian benefits of ecumenism normalise the idea that two thousand small churches make One True Church. Essentially, there is no logical argument against euthanasia. Arguments for ‘slippery slope’ can be rebutted as valid reservations about mechanical imperfections in a perfectible process. There is only obedience. For those with Faith, no reason is necessary for obeying divine law concerning the sanctity of life. For those without, no reason is possible. It has long been recognised that impartial science exists as a desire but, in practice, institutional interests influence what scientists see and work at. Ethics is an industry also with institutional interests, Professional ethicists have to say something about euthanasia or people will wonder if they have anything to say about anything. True science would say pick the worst scenario you can think of: a very old person in full control of his mental faculties suffering pain that cannot be alleviated who is absolutely determined that he has accomplished all that he wants for himself and his family and, empirically, there is nothing left to achieve except further to traumatise those attending at his bedside. Ethicists should do the same. All that person has is obedience to the same inscrutable will of God that traumatised Abraham and Isaac, and demanded much too much, one could reasonably say, of the woman and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7. But, from that nonrational obedience, in those who have thought well in advance of death about their relationship with God, is a likelihood that even before death may be dissolution of trauma and peace beyond understanding.
roy chen yee | 05 June 2021

1. This is an interesting exercise in armchair ethics. Would Margaret be prepared to preach it at the bedside of someone suffering agonising symptoms as they slowly but inevitably die? If 'no', the case lacks integrity. If 'yes', it lacks compassion. 2. I assume Margaret is an absolute pacifist, opposing all war and all preparation for war, including funding a military and buying weapons. If not, she needs to explain why there is an ethically sinister disrespect for life in mercy killing for dying individuals to relieve their suffering, but not in creating suffering in young, healthy people by modern industrial warfare. Or by an international capitalist world order that slowly kills 50,000 people per day from poverty and social injustice. Or by the scores of other ways our society kills people (unemployment, cuts to government services, etc). 3. I'm sure helping people with any form of euthanasia is emotionally fraught. Does Margaret not think caring for someone slowly dying and in intractable agony is not also emotionally fraught? This argument should not be used selectively. 4. Jesus taught (by word and deed) that compassion towards the suffering is the sine qua non of Christian discipleship and that if there is a conflict between the Law and compassion, then compassion takes priority - much to the concern of the religious leaders of his day. It's time today's religious leaders started taking Jesus radical message seriously.
Peter Schulz | 05 June 2021

During the final days of St Pope John Paul II, the Great, by which time Ratzinger’s siege walls had been fortified beyond impenetrability and suspects within were being put to the question for possible theological incorrectness, I came across a Vietnam veteran at his end-of-life journey. He was suffering from a very rare form of cancer which spiked among veterans. We all knew about Agent Orange. We talked a lot about the War which had defined our youth. He came from a strong catholic anti-communist family and had gone with commitment to fight the great ideological war of the 20th century. He never questioned the cause. Post war he began to. Like a true warrior he immersed himself in a study of Australian foreign policy since the fall of Singapore in 1941 which included the post-Colonial period in Indo China. “It was a policy disaster; we were only there to please the Americans”. Five hundred Australian young men were killed, fifty thousand Americans, three million Vietnamese, and that is just in the battlefield. How many Vietnams have there been since 312? How many women were publically burnt as witches, scholars torched for questioning this or that doctrine? Of course, “thou shall not kill” does not apply to all that, at least not within the siege walls. Maybe any elderly person who sees their life as meaningless suffering and is thinking of bringing it to an end should, like the witches and scholars of old, be publically burnt; for the good of their soul, of course. But, the real issue is not death and dying: it’s that the deal done with the mass murder Constantine has expired. Christianity no longer has the power of the pulpit in secular democratic society. Thank God; what a relief! Maybe the Christians can do a new deal: instead of preaching they do service. They’re doing it anyhow, including palliative care.
Fosco | 06 June 2021

‘The association of death with….valorisation of suffering as God-given and ennobling...this is what lies behind anti-euthanasia sentiment, and people can smell it a mile off.’ Action, it is said, provokes an equal and opposite reaction. Yesterday’s licence is killing today’s liberty. Over the course of history, majority opinion, perhaps complacent, perhaps simply unknowing, has accepted the licence of some concept of utilitarianism or consequentialism to justify the taking of life, whether it be by normalising judicial execution or ‘just war’. The result is that life is not unconditionally protected by taboo but is at the disposal of contingent reason. If, like Sian Melmont (presumably), you don’t believe in an afterlife, what rational reason do you have to valourise suffering, especially if it is your suffering that someone who is not in pain is expecting you to valourise? Christians have perhaps forgotten that a finite human mind cannot understand an infinite mind and fiddling around with reasons to look smart is playing on an atheist’s home ground. Sometimes you can get away with it but expect one day, like now, for the divide between your brain and God’s to reassert itself. To claim good reasons is effectively to deny God lives.
roy chen yee | 06 June 2021

Roy – there are any number of Christian mystics who would agree with you, and counsel blind obedience to God's will as they enter the apophatic way. Fortunately for me, and others, there is the way of the Yahwist, who found God reflected in the beauty of creation and the messy antics of humans. From this vantage point, I would suggest Catholics have two sets of realities needing to be noted. One, I think Margaret is right in observing the Catholic position on euthanasia is failing to impact on enabling legislation debates in state jurisdictions. Peter Schulz's response illustrates the “compassion divide” that has opened up. Rather than curse the moral blindness of pro euthanasia advocates, it would seem opportune to review our quiver of arguments as a prelude to regrouping. Secondly, there is a related matter which deserves concomitant consideration. A survey of funeral notices suggests up to fifty percent of nominal Catholics are forgoing a Catholic service in favour of a secular send off - where the after life is limited to living in the memory of relatives and friends. If this trend is true, and verification details are open to scrutiny, then, we are watching the Christian narrative of death slip from the consciousness of so many who once were Christians. And that is a cause for alarm – for at the core of Catholic thinking is the twofold obligation: to celebrate the sacred mysteries and remain openly committed to making known the message – and integral to that message is in death life is changed not ended.
Bill Burke | 07 June 2021

Hello, Fosco: Your criticism of the Church is concentrated almost exclusively on crimes perpetrated in her name at points in history. Can you find no good in her preaching, teaching and practices as manifest, for instance, in the life of her saints and their influence? The secular humanism that you see and advocate as the way of the future hardly has impeccable credentials that inspire confidence, let alone faith that produces good fruit. Its worth noting, too, that the Church's members in history are subject to the call for repentance and ongoing conversion to Christ, individually and communally: something not evident in the ideologies of those who have opposed and oppose her in the name of 'enlightenment' and 'progress'. Nor do I see these same forces promoting an ethic that respects the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
John RD | 07 June 2021

Thank you Sian for remaindering us that we are talking about real people who get old, tired and sick, and can simply ran out of life-energy. We are not talking about romanticized saints whose lives have been embellished over centuries by the Vatican PR machinery. I too was brainwashed by the St Francis fable until I returned to the old peasant village of my birth. There, I made contact with an uncle who I barely knew. The misery of old Italia had past he told me. He would have known: spending a childhood permanently hungry; ripped off by the local land baron who stole the greater portion of the family produce. Placed in context, St Francis’s song and dance, vain-glorious vow of poverty is an offense to my ancestors. This is not to say that the radical idealism expressed by John RD is fantasy only that it is the reality of a very few. About 70% of the Australian population support voluntary assisted dying. Since the laws were introduced in Victoria about 200 people have chosen to end their life with a further 100 changing their mind. Queensland (and I think) South Australia are looking at similar legislation. Euthanasia is a political reality. Opponents may need to consider a more pragmatic option: lobby for stringent safeguards and more resources for palliative care.
Fosco | 07 June 2021

The recognising of death in the context of life as Bill Burke affirms places it in its theological perspective as a reality consequent on God's respect in creation for human freedom, and on humans' abuse of this gift. God's creative intent of eternal life for us abides, but it is in our power to reject it, as the Creation/Fall narrative reveals. But God does not abandon us humans in our blindness and wilfulness: a new creation and new life has been attained for us as our ultimate possibility by Christ's death and resurrection. Christians' current failure to win the political battle on euthanasia underlines the challenge before those who follow him to make Christ's vision and gift of life known and welcomed. Life, not death, is the hallmark of Christ's gospel - and life to the full, at that.
John RD | 08 June 2021

Bill Burke: ‘God reflected in the…messy antics of humans.’ Thanks, Bill. Let me interpret what hallowing the messiness of human ‘antics’ in your honeyed words is really saying: We should change the Magisterium and allow Catholics to embrace dying that is artificially enabled in a kindly fashion (with a lot of precautions against killing people who don’t want to be killed) because there is no death, only the seamless transformation of life from one form into another in an instant. If I am wrong about the real meaning of the arrows in your quiver, I apologise. If I’m not, the honey is that of the fruit, attractive in appearance, good to the taste and making quite a good bit of secular sense. But, you’re not really on Margaret’s side, are you, in thinking that this palliative argument carries a lot of water? Well, I’m not. Palliative is as palliative does and sometimes it doesn’t. But, at least, there are no honeyed words obscuring where I stand.
roy chen yee | 08 June 2021

I think one of the problems with the anti-euthanasia movement within the Catholic Church in this country is that it is seen to be led by the same clerical clowns who gave us the recent ghastly sex scandals, not solely involving the underaged. It was vile stuff. Idiots like Ronnie 'Goon Show' Mulkearns, the late unlamented Bishop of Ballarat, who should, in my opinion, have been buried in unconsecrated ground, for both his unholy arrogance and total dereliction of his duty to protect his flock, sadly set the tone for most of the clowns they mentored and who succeeded them in high office. They are still there, leading with outdated Mannixian authoritarianism as if this were 1914. With apologies to the old camp actors of yore and some of the more 'eccentric' Anglo-Catholic clerics of yore, who were interchangeable, that's what our leaders appear like - figures of fun - when they deliver their autocued messages from an empty cathedral. Who cares? Jesus was emphatically not a clown, though he had a sense of humour, which most of ours singularly lack. He also did not dress up in outdated clobber. As a Grenadier Guards RSM once screamed across the parade ground in a voice that would wake the dead, what these idiots need to do is 'Get real, you b----y imbecile! A b----y chimpanzee could follow orders better! You're a flipping disgrace!'
Edward Fido | 08 June 2021

While I vehemently disagree with Fosco, he is at least right in one unexplored regard. The citizenry of the Netherlands and Belgium, whose cultures, history and voting patterns I know well, have over the last three generations experienced the kind of opposition and interdict from the Vatican that no other community of Catholics have had to endure to any comparable extent. At one time at least half, if not a marginal majority of the Dutch were nominally Catholic and overwhelmingly 'practicing'; while between 87 and 90 percent of the Belgians were. At least one of these intensely faith-filled and loyal groups of adherents, at the forefront of Europe's defense of the Catholic faith, had to bear the indignity of being kept waiting until six of their eleven bishops had either died in office or resigned, in order to have a 'change-of-heart' conservative episcopacy imposed upon them (including one foreigner). A practical and forthright people, not given to the pussyfooting sycophancy of clericalist forelock-tugging, their exit from the Church plainly shows in their support of euthanasia. The Vatican palpably has a great deal to answer for, including at least two naked 'cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face' strategic blunders to stymie the progress of Vatican II.
Michael Furtado | 08 June 2021

Hello John RD: did you read Bill’s funeral statistic? And there is plenty more stats if anybody wants to see them. We live in a secular democratic society not a theocracy like Iraq or a papal state. With the monumental demographic shift behind Bill’s humble funeral notices, changes in the law will follow. That’s what has happened with abortion, Family Law, same-sex marriage and now euthanasia. Bill is concerned that “we are watching the Christian narrative of death slip from the consciousness……”? But that’s what some of us have been saying for fifty years; and not just about death. What has been the Church’s response to this “revolution”: fortify the siege walls! By the time St Pope John Paul II, the Great became pope, I had already journey but did note something he said that “the Church needed saints”. At first I thought he was making a profound spiritual statement. Then I realised he was talking about cranking up Vatican saint-making. You say “repentance and ongoing conversion to Christ”. Maybe somebody should go into the desert, do inner battle with the Darkness, and come back to show us humanists what that means in our place and our time.
Fosco | 08 June 2021

Somebody did go into the desert and battle with the Darkness, Fosco. You know his name, and he knows yours and mine. He still inspires individuals and a community of faith across all cultures to trust and follow him; though he had no illusions about the blindness and deafness that surrounded and confronted him - even among his disciples - and the scepticism and indifference of those who would refuse to believe, even were he, as he prophesied, to rise from the dead.
John RD | 09 June 2021

Sian's letter made me think that secularism is the new predominate philosophy. So why are people so surprised that voluntary assisted dying (VAD) is supported by the majority in society? As far as I can discern. the trend towards the secular world began with Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection, and accelerated with the advent of the modern consumer , materialistic society. The Catholic Church, being a a very conservative body, has never been able to adapt to these events. After all, are we not just ascendant animals? Animals measure their success by their genes adaption to their environment. Modern humans however have replaced gene adaption as a measure of success, to another measure called money and consumer happiness. In addition, we have replaced the historical family unit that supplied cradle to the grave support, with the "State " run model. Why else would we have the following? State subsidized abortion. early child care, homes for the aged. homes for the disabled and now state subsidized VAD. Early Christianity offered a hope that was so different to the then dominant, modern Roman state, in that it place human life on a higher spiritual level to the brutal, survival of the fittest Roman Empire model. Religion can be hypocritical, as seen in perspective through the ages. The Catholic Church diluted a pure message from Jesus by all its "add ons" (celibate male clergy, the infallibility of the Pope, a lower ranking for women in the Church, the sale of indulgences, artificial contraception etc). But the secular state is hypocritical all the time. Why is abortion and VAD legal in Victoria and capital punishment for heinous crimes is not? Why is a foetus only deemed to have full legal rights as a human after been born, when any person knows that a foetus is a fully developed human well before been born? In this case, why does the State supply all those humidy-cribs to hospitals? Secular society now seems to place great store in the State over riding all facets of our life, despite the State showing an incoherent attitude to the sanctity of all human life. In conclusion, the modern secular State model seems to value human life as little above animal life. Fair enough, but do not be surprised what the future holds.
Rob Harpham | 09 June 2021

Yes indeed, Michael: Way back then when we were all young I had friends who worked for progressive social justice organizations under the auspice of the Church. They were deeply committed young Catholics who kept telling me that I was wrong; the Church was changing. Eventually they became victims of the St Pope John Paul II, the Great – Cardinal Ratzinger Stalinist purge. They copped the Marxists-Relativists stuff. Ratzinger was big on anti-Relativism - although it did not seem to stop him using relativism in dealing with clerical child abuse. Our lives went in different directions, and I lost contact. When an organization cannibalizes its most committed young people it is heading for oblivion, was my thought at the time. I even refrained from my usual “I told you so” arrogance because I had too much respect for them.
Fosco | 09 June 2021

Roy – My suggestion was to pause and review – not subvert from within. The fact that the slippery slope assertion is a weak argument, easily rebutted and dismissed should be of concern if Catholics want to remain in the persuasive arena of secular politics. In a different way, Catholic thinking has made extensive use of the principle of double effect in articulating end of life pain management strategies in palliative care. For many of our opponents, the principle of double effect is little more than a mind game hiding the real state of play: now, I don't accept that criticism, but I do accept we are obligated to resource our argumentation to maximise their informative and potentially persuasive capabilities – if our belief that faith and reason are both pathways to truth and we remain in the business of sharing our progress with friends and strangers.
Bill Burke | 09 June 2021

Well what can I say, John? Seeing that the Darkness is a tough gig, and somebody has already been there, it would be inhumane to ask somebody else to go again. I guess I have to work with what we’ve go - and be humble about it!
Fosco | 10 June 2021

I agree, Fosco (10/6): Two scriptural lines that come to mind from your response are: "I will not leave you orphans" (Jn 14:18) - Christ assuring his disciples that, no matter what form or shape the dark, they'll never have to face it on their own - and , "A humbled, contrite heart You will not spurn" (Psalm 51:19). Both verses are, I find, at once challenging and encouraging, and ring with the conviction and wisdom of an existential faith.
John RD | 11 June 2021

Bill Burke: ‘Catholic thinking has made extensive use of the principle of double effect….For many of our opponents, the principle of double effect is little more than a mind game….’: meaning that when pain relief is deemed by one side to have had the unintended consequence of shortening life, what has happened, according to the other side, is that a fudge of euthanasia-by-the-back-door has been manipulated to happen? Does pain itself have no effect on when life ends? Another view could be that pain relief prolongs life beyond its God-allotted time. Christ declined to decline not just death but a manner of it. He re-accepted the manner and its characteristic pain by declining the sponge on the hyssop stick. Perhaps Christ would still have died at 3 even if he had not accepted the analgesic, but no detail in a story that is meant to be inspired can be extraneous so what is the sponge all about? Even elating the mind of a patient to ease the burden might not be moral: https://hospicecare.com/policy-and-ethics/e thical-issues/essays-and-articles-on-ethics-in-palliative-care/the-principle-of-double-effect-questioned/ What we might be left with is the unpalatable proposition that where a type of death includes a characteristic pain, the two cannot be separated.
roy chen yee | 11 June 2021

As I said, perhaps somewhat intemperately, one of the problems the Catholic Church in Australia has when its clerical leaders attempt to address contemporary moral issues, such as euthanasia, is, for a number of obvious reasons, they lack credibility: they 'ring false'. They will need to rebuild trust. This will take generations. In the meantime they have not hindered someone like the multi-talented and incredibly eloquent and persuasive Professor Margaret Somerville speaking on a subject for which she is eminently qualified. Talk about empowering the laity and letting women speak, if the Church did this to so many women, who are like Margaret, such as the estimable Joan Seymour, they might just change the world. Of such mettle was Mary, Jesus' mother. Jesus paid attention to her at Cana in Gallilee and that became history. One of the problems with the Catholic Church in our country is that it has seen all women as potential whores unless they become nuns and thus 'become like Mary'. This is codswallop. Mary was a married woman with a family. She and St Joseph brought Jesus up and made him the man he was. This is the way God works. Our leaders are totally clueless. We must pray for better ones to replace them.
Edward Fido | 12 June 2021

Roy – no problems with your summary of critics view of double effect applications in end of life pain management. However, I will leave off commenting on your consideration of the experience of pain as death approaches. Our current discussion devolves from a reflection on arguments in the secular realm on legislative initiatives seeking to advance access to euthanasia in particular circumstances: this focus is enough for me to reflect on, in this thread.
Bill Burke | 12 June 2021

Edward, while I share your appreciation of Professor Margaret Somerville's contribution to Catholic thinking, I think your estimation of the Church in Australia's past views on women and your suggestion that they are not allowed to speak today are uncharacteristically exaggerated. My experience of parish councils and the preliminary deliberations of the Plenary Council was quite the opposite, with women chairing all the sessions and at least doubling males in attendance and contributions to discussion. It's also worth noting, I think, that female Catholic theologians like Tracey Rowland are also highly influential contemporary voices in the Catholic Church, locally and internationally. Professor Rowland in 2104 was appointed to Pope Francis's International Theological Commission, and just last year was awarded the Ratzinger Prize for theology - its first-ever Australian recipient. A review of her theology by Fr Tom Ryan SM of the Aquinas Academy is available online.
John RD | 14 June 2021


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