Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

Dr Catherine Lennon, Doctors for the Family – NSW Hansard

Following is the Hansard report on Cate Faehrmann MLC’s comments in the NSW Parliament about the actions of Dr Catherine Lennon, devout Catholic, NSW President of Doctors for the Family,  founder and board member of Matercare Australia and opponent of Ms Faehrmann’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill. That Bill is being debated, today (23 May 2013) in the NSW Parliament.

In Parliament yesterday, Ms Faehrmann quoted extensively from my blog post on Dr Lennon. I hope my readers and fellow bloggers will be heartened by the fact that we ‘citizen journalists’ can bring such issues to light and that we can have an impact if we speak out.

The mainstream media does not have to control the public debate.

But, if we ‘citizen journalists’ are to claim our power to expose and influence, we must not become the monster we are fighting. We must enter any campaign with an absolute commitment to honesty and ethics – even when this restriction may make it more difficult to achieve our aims.

I live by the maxim, attributed to Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. It guides everything I do.

Ironically, Dr Lennon probably feels the same way.

But, in fighting against that which, she believes is ‘evil’, Dr Lennon has crossed the line. The end does not justify the means if the means are deceptive, dishonest, misleading and designed to misrepresent the truth. This is not only a sin against God (should you believe in him), it is a sin against mankind. This is not the way to argue or to win your case and I will never stoop to that level.

I hope to see Dr Lennon do the decent thing and step down from her position as president for Doctors of the Family NSW and from her board position on Matercare NSW.  She has done neither of them proud.

Hansard – New South Wales Legislative Council, 22 May 2013


The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN [10.15 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the behaviour of Dr Catherine Lennon, who attended a briefing that I held for members on my Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill a few weeks ago. I will quote Chrys Stevenson and her wordpress blog called “That’s my philosophy” at length. At that meeting a person identified herself as the adviser to the member for Castle Hill, Dominic Perrottet. It turned out that this person was Dr Catherine Lennon, a Catholic pro-life activist and president of the quasi-religious lobby group Doctors for the Family. Dr Lennon is not a member of Mr Perrottet’s staff, as she indicated; she is his sister-in-law. However, she had not been invited in her own right nor had she been invited to attend the private briefing, although that is how she identified herself.

After she left the briefing, Dr Lennon made two telephone calls to the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine to complain that Dr David Leaf had made a statement to the effect that all emergency specialists are trained in euthanasia. That statement is disgraceful and untrue. Mr Perrottet has been adamant in his conversations with a number of people, including me, that Dr Lennon was not a member of his staff and that he had not asked her to attend the briefing on his behalf, nor did she have his permission to represent herself as his proxy.

In her email to members of Parliament several days afterwards, Dr Lennon capitalised on the credibility inherent in her professional standing as a doctor but curiously failed to disclose her other interests. Nowhere in that email did Dr Lennon mention her position as president of Doctors for the Family, nor did she admit to being a founder and a board member, along with her husband, Richard, of Matercare Australia—a non-profit Catholic organisation that specifically enjoins medical professionals to act as prophetic witnesses “by reflecting on the teaching and practice of contemporary maternal health care in the light of the Gospel and its values most recently presented in the Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae.”

In short, in writing to New South Wales members of Parliament, Dr Lennon fails to disclose an important vested interest. It is clear that in all things medical Dr Lennon answers primarily to the doctrines of the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Pope. One wonders whether she discloses that to her patients. In her email Dr Lennon misuses the term “involuntary euthanasia”—which is always illegal; what she means is “non-voluntary euthanasia. Euthanasia without explicit request—non-voluntary euthanasia—is not ideal, but unbiased studies recognise that it is sometimes unavoidable if the best interests of the patient are to be served. A doctor or an academic well versed in the literature on voluntary euthanasia would not make this basic error. It is the strategy of a propagandist to use an emotive term that is easily misunderstood by those not familiar with the terminology.

Dr Lennon complains that during the parliamentary briefing neither Dr Leaf nor Dr Ryan “gave any factual evidence, medical references or accurate statistics”. It is rather difficult to provide bibliographic references in a short presentation, but Dr Leaf’s 2012 article on the safety of voluntary euthanasia legislation around the world, published in the British Medical Journal, provides a number of informative references on this subject. Conversely, email lends itself perfectly to hyperlinks and bibliographic references, yet Dr Lennon’s email provides no usable links or academic sources to help members of Parliament check the validity of her claims.

For example, Dr Lennon alleges that, according to the Journal of Geriatric Internal Medicine in February 2008, “most doctor assisted suicides in Oregon were not requested due to physical pain but most were due to ‘existential’ suffering and some patients were physically healthy”. The statement is technically true, but by omitting the context of this factoid Dr Lennon cleverly gives the false impression that otherwise healthy patients in Oregon are being euthanised simply because they are depressed. That is categorically untrue and a scandalous misinterpretation of the data.

The question of course, which Dr Lennon neatly evades, is not who asks for voluntary euthanasia but who receives it. It is true that 93.5 per cent of patients who take advantage of Oregon’s death with dignity legislation say they are less concerned about physical pain and more concerned about loss of autonomy. Some 92.2 per cent cite the decreasing ability to participate in the activities that made life enjoyable and 77.9 per cent say that they are concerned about loss of dignity. However, under Oregon law a patient may request a prescription for lethal medication on the basis of their “existential suffering” until the cows come home, but unless they are terminally ill, mentally competent and have less than six months to live there is not a doctor in Oregon who can legally oblige. It is strange that Dr Lennon did not think it was important to make that clarification in her email to members of Parliament.

Dr Lennon also accuses Dr Leaf of failing “to acknowledge that most patients asking for lethal injections or other forms of assisted suicide actually have depression which affects their cognition and usually responds well to treatment and support”. The kindest interpretation of the many howlers in Dr Lennon’s email to members is that she has cut and pasted propaganda from pro-life bloggers such as Alex Schadenberg and Paul Russell, who was formerly the senior officer of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide’s Office of Family and Life, but she has not bothered to go back to the source documents. That is unforgiveable for someone who is academically trained.


A quotation which sent to me during the last couple of days suggests that, even according to her fellow-Catholics, Dr Lennon has let the team down badly.

The following quote is from Father Frank Brennan SJ’s address ‘Re-imagining the Mission — A Pilgrimage of Faith’, presented at the Catholic Education Sandhurst Conference: A Pilgrimage of Faith, presented 24 May 2012 at Catholic College Bendigo.

“If we as the People of God rejoicing in the name ‘Catholic’ are to bring the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, we need to ensure that our Church is an exemplar of the noblest values espoused by people of all faiths and none.We need to recommit ourselves to charity, justice and truth both within our own structures when dealing with each other, and in all our dealings with those outside the membership of our Church, especially those who differ with us conscientiously about the moral challenges of the Age.”

Chrys Stevenson