In our time of dying

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have joined to reaffirm each religion’s clear opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox churches and the Muslim and Jewish faiths signed a joint declaration at a ceremony at the Vatican on 28 October.

Bishop Bill Wright notes it has been 33 years since Pope John Paul II gathered leaders of the world religions in Assisi. 

“They issued a statement rejecting war or violence on religious grounds, because all the great faiths recognise that every human being is a child of God the Creator,” said Bishop Bill.

“It is no surprise, then, that representatives of leading faiths would come together to uphold the value of every human life by opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide. Those who acknowledge a Creator don’t sanction deliberate killing of God’s sons and daughters.”

Maitland-Newcastle Diocese parishioner John Cavenagh, formerly a senior staff specialist in palliative medicine at Calvary Mater Newcastle, says it is good to see the joint statement promoting the reciprocal understanding and synergies of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths on “end-of-life” care. 

“Society attributes enormous power to the medical profession in its perceived ability to prolong life, whereas in my own experience this is just not a reality,” said Dr Cavenagh. “Medicine has its limits. Usually a point is reached where although various procedures or treatments could be done, it doesn’t mean they should be. 

“In the majority of cases, it becomes clear to the patient, their family and the medical team, that curative options should not be pursued any longer, that death is approaching, and the main focus of care must be palliative care.”

Pain and symptom control, family/carer support, and psychological and spiritual care are the central focus of palliative care.

Calvary is a significant provider of health and aged care in the Hunter region, with a focus on tending to those at the end of their lives. National Manager for Palliative and End of Life Care, Naomi McGowan, says it is important to provide holistic care in these situations.

“Care that addresses the individual’s physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs and the needs of their support networks can significantly reduce suffering,” Ms McGowan said. “Whether a person is receiving palliative or end-of-life care in a specialist service, acute, residential aged or community service, it is paramount that we listen to them with respect and ensure anyone in need of care is not abandoned.”

Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister of The Great Synagogue, Sydney, says he warmly welcomes the statement by Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders opposing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

“Human life is sacred and should never be taken away,” said Rabbi Elton. “At the same time there comes a point at which active medical intervention is no longer appropriate and the dying person should be kept comfortable and peaceful and nature allowed to take its course.”

Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, president of the Australian National Imams Council, says the joint declaration represents an important position taken by the three monotheistic faiths.

“In all of these religions, preeminent value is placed on life and not taking such life as a discretionary matter,” he said.

Dr Cavenagh says patients usually get to a point where they feel they have tried their very best to overcome an illness and feel deeply satisfied with the effort they have made.  Quality of life then becomes their central concern.  

“Every human being has the moral right to refuse medical treatment they perceive to be overly burdensome, and this joint position statement highlights this,” he said.

“Some patients have the erroneous understanding that they are morally bound to accept all medical treatments meaning refusal to do so could be akin to suicide or euthanasia.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

“The statement emphasises the need for society to ensure that ‘being a financial burden’ should never be a reason for someone feeling that it would be better for everyone if they were ‘out of the way’.

“A dying patient has inherent dignity not only from their own inherent dignity but also from the attitude of those who care for them.”


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