Voluntary Assisted Dying

You might be aware that NSW’s laws permitting Voluntary Assisted Dying commence operation last week. It is now legally possible in NSW to ask for “euthanasia”. Many of us will not have thought or heard much about this beyond a brief news report. Others will be more keenly aware. There is a range of views in the community. As a pastor, I feel a responsibility to share with you what I believe about this from God’s word.

Life is a wonderful gift from God. He knitted each of us together in our mother’s womb, made everyone unique, and gave us each other to provide joy and help along the way. While life is also painful, it is fundamentally an amazing gift.

As a result, when family, church, community, and medical care are all working as they should, the desire for assisted dying simply does not arise. It is truly amazing how, when people know that they are cared for, they are able to face the pain and indignity of serious or terminal illness, and still be grateful for life. I can think of one person in particular, who had said he might want euthanasia, yet when his illness became terminal, the question did not arise, because he and the loved ones around him wanted as much time together as they could have.

For these reasons, the first answer to euthanasia is that we need to be caring so well for one another that we are grateful for life, even when it is deeply painful. If a person expresses the desire for assisted dying, it may well be alleviated by the sort of life-affirming human contact that we all value so much. This is why it was right to oppose the introduction of assisted dying laws, because they will inevitably lead to less investment in providing the ill with a life worth living.

It is very important to affirm life as God’s gift, and to give “humble and hearty thanks” for life, before we begin talking about moral boundaries.

The new laws provide for the possibility of taking a lethal pill, which will be sent to a person in a locked box. Euthanasia is not the same as withdrawing treatment and letting nature take its course. That has always been legal, and has always been accepted by Christians as a legitimate response to terminal illness.

However, the new laws do cross a moral boundary. I’d like to urge you that assisted dying is not God’s will for anyone. It is against the command not to kill (Exod. 20:13), and it usurps God’s exclusive role as the one who gives and takes away life (Deut. 32:39). We do not have the wisdom to make these decisions. It is safest for us not even to attempt to make decisions about when to take life. That way, there would be no risk of the weak being even “gently” coerced into receiving euthanasia (which will happen, despite the safeguards).

Moral boundaries can seem restrictive, but they are also liberating. Consider it liberating that we do not even have to consider the possibility of assisted dying. Our task is to receive the gift of life for as long as God chooses to give it.

Our faith in God is only tested when his commands diverge from what we want. So, if you should ever find yourself facing the dreadful decision which these new laws invite, could I urge you to trust our good God, and say no to assisted dying.