Ministering to people who are contemplating assisted suicide or euthanasia can be tricky, but Catholics are called upon to err on the side of mercy and compassion when making a judgement call.
Te Kupenga acting chief executive Dr John Kleinsman and Te Kupenga lecturer and former dean Fr Merv Duffy, SM, stressed this message at an online event called “Catholic Responses to the End-of-Life Choice Act” held on December 1. It was the first of such events hosted by the Catholic educational institution.
The two speakers based their presentation on the letter Samaritanus Bonus (Good Samaritan) issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2020, and the recently released guidelines by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.
Fr Duffy likened the accompaniment of people contemplating assisted dying to the journey of the disciples at the foot of the Cross, in that the disciples were clearly against crucifixion, but were there to accompany the Lord.
Dr Kleinsman said that those who would choose assisted dying are “extremely vulnerable people”. He said studies abroad show that some of the underlying reasons why they choose euthanasia include social and financial pressures, neglect by family or caregivers, the idea that they are a burden, as well as other forms of “invisible coercion”.
He explained the Vatican letter required “willing persistence”, and a “firm decision” on the part of the person seeking assisted death.
He noted these requirements set a very high threshold that the majority of those who are contemplating euthanasia would not likely meet.
“In section 1 part V, Samaritanus Bonus acknowledges that requests can arise from anguish and despair, and that guilt can be reduced or completely absent. In the same section, it talks about the fact that personal responsibility can be compromised,” Dr Kleinsman said.
Pastors need to be “very, very sure” about a person’s disposition if they are considering withholding sacraments for this person.
Fr Duffy said both Samaritanus Bonus and the New Zealand bishops’ guidelines are “very nuanced” with a lot of “shoulds” and “coulds”.
“The NZCB’s are more inclined to give the sacraments, and leave the judgement of the soul of the person to God and that individual, rather than putting the onus on the priest,” Fr Duffy said.
In the meantime, Dr Kleinsman said that he had been working with a number of Catholic religious organisations who provide care throughout New Zealand.
“They have come up with a policy and some guidelines. And they will not be referring, or be part of the assessment process or be complicit in . . . providing the lethal substance, or even offering their premises. They are very, very clear about that,” he said.
Dr Kleinsman said that Catholic care providers will have specially-trained staff who will engage with any patient who raises questions about assisted dying.