Tough pastoral issue looms from November

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.

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Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions


  1. Nigel Williamson. says

    Try telling it how it really is.
    It is not “mercy killing”.
    It is just as murderous as abortion,
    and just as gutless.
    Cold-blooded murder can lead on to
    a Catholic malaise that already
    is in a low point with priestly scandals.
    The populist approach is good for democracy,
    but the Catholic church is not a democracy.
    The hidden detail is a persuasive in law who
    can see a money grab in the making with a
    relative who is so easily persuaded to give
    up all hope and simply give in to the doctors
    advice, which is spurious, to say the least in
    this matter.
    Strange how there is no mention in the article
    to other atheistic tendencies that accompany
    Euthanasia- abortion, drugs, and pornography,
    all the cutting edge of Secular Humanism which
    is a complete denial of any supernatural.
    Are Catholics bending to an atheistic tendency
    that arrives with the current NZ government?
    Is it really a case of money talks?
    And what does the local NZ moral theologian
    think about it all?

  2. Ken Orr says

    The last rites are for those souls who seek to have their sins forgiven and to be in a state of grace to receive Holy Communion. In the tragic circumstances where a person has resolved to have a doctor administer a lethal injection or assist in their suicide a priest could not give absolution or give Holy Communion. I believe that a priest would be limited to praying with the person that they would reject this intrinsic evil and seek to be reconciled with God. The Christian community should now be prayerfully asking itself why they have elected a Parliament which has imposed a culture of death on the nation with the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 and the End of Life Choice Act 2019. Those who are prepared to kill the unborn should not be trusted to govern the living.

  3. Joseph Potter says

    If we are to take a moralistic view of things I would go one step further. Obviously God intends for these people to be in a painful, debilitating condition and that we can construe from this that they are being punished. To that end, why give absolution to any person being punished by God. Just like Job, God is putting them through their paces. If they show faith and conciliation, they will be saved. It is not for us to intervene with pain medication and palliative care, interfering with God’s will.
    If you think that charity will be recognized then at some point you are drawing a line, defining what is permissible and shaping the will of God to your own ends. God is everything or he is nothing. We are either here to suffer and be redeemed in the afterlife or we can make choices based on an evolving understanding on ethical behavior and accept that true mercy sometimes means giving a person the choice, when there is no reasonable hope, to be at peace.
    No one will be forced to participate in this who is not willing. To think otherwise is simply a case of fearmongering.
    JP (former Catholic – now atheist)


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