With the End of Life Choice Act coming into force on November 7 this year, New Zealand’s Catholic bishops are facing a big pastoral issue as to whether or not to give the last rites to people who choose assisted suicide or euthanasia.
The last rites include three sacraments: Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Dying and Holy Eucharist, which are given to Catholics seriously ill or in danger of dying.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said the bishops had a discussion about this issue in the last New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference meeting, and they agreed “to seek wider input” on the issue.
“We have got to be careful,” the bishop said. “The bishops are concerned about offering these [rites] to people being euthanised, but are seeking feedback.”
He said they will be looking at what’s appropriate in terms of giving guidance and advice to those who are thinking of availing themselves of assisted suicide or euthanasia.
“Do we sit by the bed while the doctor’s doing the injection saying the prayer for the dying? It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” he said.
The bishops agreed it might be acceptable to hear the confession of those who choose assisted dying, “hoping all the time this might help them to not go ahead with what they’re doing”, Bishop Dunn said.
But he said they want to make sure that any decision they make would not undermine the position of Catholic medical practitioners, who refuse to take part in assisted suicide or euthanasia because of conscientious objection.
Bishop Dunn said the bishops were disappointed with the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act and the End of Life Choice Act and the latter being accepted in a referendum, but knew they did all they could to prevent these from becoming law.
“It’s like a tide. This (euthanasia) is one of the terrible signs of the times. How do we respond as a Church?” he asked. “In some ways, all we can do is keep emphasising what we believe and then try to show the compassionate face of the Father.”
“All we can do is to keep affirming the worth and the preciousness of every human life, even though we are living in a situation which we find so abhorrent,” he added.
Bishop Dunn said the ordinary person thinks assisted suicide is a compassionate act, a merciful thing.
“The trouble is — this sort of act can have a creeping effect. The big fear is that old people or chronically unwell people could begin to feel‘well, I’m a burden on my family, a burden on society. I’m no good. My life has no value. I just want to end it’,” he said.
“It actually has consequences that are negative for society. I sort of hope in a way that it won’t be taken up much, but you never know,” he said.