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Multifaith leaders oppose Victoria’s assisted dying bill 

Melbourne: Representatives of leading religions in Victoria have opposed a contentious bill to legalize assisted dying for the terminally ill in Australia’s smallest state.

“We are of different faiths but, in our diverse communities, we believe in compassion,” says a multifaith statement signed by representatives of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions in Victoria, Australia’s most densely-populated state. “Compassion is best addressed to the alleviation of suffering and the care for life, which our traditions deem precious,” it asserts.

The leaders on October 11 gathered on the steps of Victoria’s parliament to deliver the joint statement to Deputy Premier James Merlino, reports melbournecatholic.org.au.

Victoria is all set to pass the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill by the end of this year.

Kawalpreet Singh, who represented the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria, stood next to the Merlino as he read the statement before the faith representatives and each said their names in support of the shared announcement.

Asking the parliament to reject the proposed assisted dying legislation, the statement highlighted the shared beliefs of the religious leaders.

Besides Singh, the statement was signed by Sheikh Isse Abdo Musse, president of the Board of Imams Victoria, Phra Khru Kampee-panya-withet, abbot of Melbourne Thai Buddhist Temple, Makarand Bhagwat, Victorian director, Hindu Council of Australia, Rabbi Daniel Rabin, president, Rabbinical Council of Victoria, Jasbir Singh Suropada, chairperson of Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria, and Bishop Peter Danaher, president of the Victorian Council of Churches.

“We are concerned that deliberate interventions to end life tear at the fabric of our society.

“We urge, for the good of the entire community, that the government extend access to palliative care to all Victorians who need it.”

Merlino, who has publicly expressed his opposition to the Bill, commended the solidarity of the multi-faith gathering and said it was important to consider their perspective.

“For the different faith communities to come together in such a strong way is unprecedented,’ said the deputy premier, “I will make sure that all my colleagues in parliament are aware.”

Makarand Bhagwat, the Hindu leader, highlighted the accord among the religious leaders. “All of us coming together here is an extraordinary thing. It demonstrates to the parliament that we are all together especially on the matter of such sensitive issues,” he explained.

Bishop Danaher said he joined colleagues and people of other faiths to witness “our misgivings and our unhappiness with this proposed legislation.” He too stressed more palliative care for all those facing the final parts of their life.

Executive Officer of the Ecumenical Interfaith Commission, David Schütz, said that although joint religious action was infrequent, the united display underlined the importance of the issue and the mutual respect that exists between Victoria’s religious communities.

“This Bill, while attempting to uphold that dignity through enabling personal autonomy, actually greatly endangers the security and care of the many for the sake of a few,” he said. “This group represents the result of a lot of dialogue and hard work.”

‘So we have been discussing, drinking tea and eating cake together for a long time in order to prepare for this day,’ added Schütz.

The bill, if passed, would allow people suffering from an advanced and incurable disease, illness or medical condition the right to choose a doctor-assisted death from 2019.

Victoria’s government led by premier David Andrews has modeled the bill on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Professor Brian Owler and billed as the most conservative in the world.

Under the panel’s scheme, terminally ill Victorians could access lethal medication within 10 days of asking to die, following a three-step request process involving two independent medical assessments.

They must be over the age of 18, of sound mind, expected to die within 12 months and suffering in a way that “cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.”

The patient must administer the drug themselves, but a doctor could deliver the lethal dose in rare cases where someone was physically unable to end their own life.

At first, an estimated 150 people per year are expected to ask for a doctor-assisted death, based on the numbers in Oregon in the United States where assisted suicide has been legal for 20 years.

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