Fostering a considered discussion on voluntary assisted dying 

Fostering a considered discussion on voluntary assisted dying 

Twenty years after it was first debated in parliament, on Thursday 19 May, NSW became the final state in Australia to introduce assisted dying laws. Independant Sydney MP Alex Greenwich introduced the bill to parliament late last year with 28 co-sponsors from across all parties – the higher mumber of any bill in Australian parliamentary history.

Terminally ill people in NSW will now be able to choose the timing of their death after the historic bill passed.

Rev. Simon Hansford, the Moderator of the Uniting Church (NSW and ACT) said, in recognition of the deeply held – and diverse – theological and personal views of people across the Church, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT would not take an official position on this issue.

“Anyone who has watched a loved-one die in agony and often confusion will attest that it challenged and sometimes changed their outlook and their faith. It transforms what can be an academic debate to one that is intensely personal,” Rev Hansford said.

“However, that doesn’t mean there is not the need for a thorough, thoughtful and considered debate that must happen around this issue. It is complex and vexed and there are no simple answers.

“From a theological perspective, many congregation members have also spoken to me about the equal worth of every human life irrespective of illness and pain, and our responsibility as a community to provide appropriate care to everyone.”

“I believe the debate around voluntary assisted dying has been too narrow and too dominated by our own Western societal outlook on individuality, on suffering, on life and death. Not only this, but I am not convinced that enough consideration is being given in our community to other cultures – be they our First Nations people, or those who have come to Australia from nations across the world.

“Other cultures’ understanding of community, how authority is exercised, and giving those authorities the ability to consider ending a life is very different to that which many of us may have experienced. There is a level of concern and even alarm that I don’t think has been heard or even allowed to be articulated in the public debate on voluntary assisted in NSW.”

Rev. Hansford said the church started to have a discussion about voluntary assisted dying at Synod in Session last year. The discussion groups were aided by a paper on the issue that was prepared for Synod.

The Synod’s agency responsible for aged care, Uniting, has looked at what the implications of such a Bill will mean to the services we provide in our aged care facilities across the State.

“We are satisfied the Bill offers sufficient protection to residential aged care providers”, said Saviour Buhagiar, Director of Ageing at Uniting NSW.ACT.

“We must remember residential aged care homes are exactly that – people’s homes – and older people deserve the same rights as those in the wider community. Should voluntary assisted dying become law, Uniting would not seek to prevent our residents from using it if that was their wish.”

“I want to acknowledge the considerable and compassionate work which has been achieved by advocates of the Bill, like Independent Member of Parliament, Alex Greenwich, and thank them for including our Church in the consultation.”

Rev. Hansford said he wanted to facilitate further discussions on this issue and was keen to hear from congregations across the Synod about what would best help them have an informed and reflective discussion within their congregations.

“Given that voluntary assisted dying has become law in NSW we want to create spaces within congregations to allow for the respectful airing of views, concerns and feelings.”


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2 thoughts on “Fostering a considered discussion on voluntary assisted dying ”

  1. I think discussion is important. I was a member of the Victorian Synod meeting that discussed the Victorian legislation. I facilitated a small group that discussed the issues before we made a decision. It was hard work to make sure that everyone in the group, especially those who spoke English as an additional language, felt able to express their views freely. The leaders were prepared well and the groups were relatively small. It wouldn’t be something you could start as a discussion at a plenary church meeting.

    We had the additional issue of needing to decide whether we would permit VAD in the Epworth Hospital, an acute care hospital which belongs to the UCA. This was a very different issue to allowing people to make this kind of choice in their own homes which happen to be Uniting Church-owned aged care facilities, because it requires more active support from staff and therefore a very clear way of making sure that conscientious objection is allowed without any negative consequences for staff. I don’t remember the Synod actually supporting the bill so much as agreeing that VAD could happen at the Epworth, with conscientious objection being permitted.

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