You wouldn’t know it by listening to church leaders, but the majority of Christians and Catholics support voluntary assisted dying (VAD). The latest Australian Electoral Study data, collected by the Australian National University, shows that 74 per cent of Catholics, 78 per cent of Anglicans and 81 per cent of Uniting Church/Methodists want VAD legalised.
VAD is also strongly supported in the countries and jurisdictions where it is legal. In Belgium, for example, 53 per cent of the population is Catholic (compared with 23 per cent of Australians), yet, around 80 per cent of Belgians support their country’s very liberal law on assisted dying. Around 81 per cent of the Portuguese population is Catholic, but almost 60 per cent support VAD. So, although ‘the Church’ might oppose VAD, most Catholics don’t, and those who do are a fringe group, unrepresentative of the majority.
While the most vocal opposition to VAD comes from this Catholic minority, it’s not always obvious. Catholic opponents of VAD often take great care to conceal, or at least not disclose, the religious affiliation which dictates their view on assisted dying. This is similar to a climate scientist arguing against the contention that human activity causes global warming, while failing to disclose they work for an oil company; or a medical doctor warning the current MMR vaccine is dangerous while failing to disclose his investment in the development of an alternative vaccine. It is, to be blunt, unethical and dishonest.
Recently, when New Zealanders were debating whether to legalise voluntary assisted dying, a letter from the Catholic Bishops advised:
When Canadian film-maker, Kevin Dunn, produced, directed and starred in an anti-VAD documentary, Fatal Flaws, he failed to disclose that he is a devout Catholic, from a family of devout Catholics, his father was a ‘pro-life’ activist, and that his media company was formed expressly to provide ‘slick branding’ for pro-life propaganda. Neither does Dunn disclose in his documentary the information he provided when interviewed on The Eternal Word Television Network, a global Catholic news network:
“… When I turned 50, I said to the Lord, I said, ‘Lord, you know I’m doing all of this work and raising this family and I’m getting to mass and doing – but I want to do more.’
And a few people talked to me: ‘Could you do more for pro-life?’
And I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll do this!’
That’s where the impetus [for the documentary] came.”
All of this is concealed from the viewers who are meant to assume that Dunn is just an everyday guy with a passing interest in getting to the “truth” about VAD. He never tells you that his mind was irrevocably made up before he set out on a world-tour to discover “the truth” or that every person he interviews was carefully selected, edited, or counter-acted, to tell the story he wants you to hear.
This year, academic publisher, Springer, released a book called Euthanasia: Searching for the Full Story: Experiences and Insights of Belgian Doctors and Nurses. The blurb for the book notes that it is written by written by “ten Belgian health care professionals, nurses, university professors and doctors specializing in palliative care and ethicists who, together, raise questions concerning the practice of euthanasia.”
I should not have been surprised that a) they were all Catholics or that b) the word ‘Catholic’ does not appear anywhere, not even once, in the text, the authors’ biographies, nor in any kind of disclosure of their affiliations. But I was surprised. Stupidly. I am always surprised that the people claiming to inhabit the moral high ground are so willing to be deceptive.
Neil Francis, from the pro-VAD website, Dying for Choice, enlisted my assistance in searching for the “full story” on contributors to Euthanasia: Searching for the Full Story. As researchers, we are trained to inquire of any scholarly work: “Who wrote this and what, if anything, is their agenda?”
This project took Neil and me – two professional researchers – many hours, finding and reading articles and news stories in English, French, Dutch and German! A general reader has no hope of ‘stumbling’ across this vital information – and the writers rely on that.
Neil’s research on the Belgian book, together with some information supplied by me, is detailed in his blog post: Springer publishes polemical anti-VAD anecdotes. Scroll through the list of contributors and note how often the word Catholic appears!
As debates over legalising VAD in Australia continue, it’s important for politicians to realise that, when people, (often touting their professional expertise), argue about the ‘dangers’ of VAD, the ‘evidence’ they produce has, inevitably, been widely and soundly debunked. Scratch the surface and you will find their opposition is based on ideology, not evidence. Politicians must ask, “WHO is this person, and why are they making this argument?” If they do some investigation (or ask us!), they will find, as we so often do, that the doctor, nurse, bioethicist or university professor, loudly proclaiming the overwhelming weight of evidence in favour of VAD is wrong, is also a devout Catholic or evangelical Christian, Orthodox Jew, or Mormon missionary.
Christians have every right to object to VAD and to choose not to avail themselves of the law when it is introduced. But they do themselves, or their religion, no favours by being deceptive. Being deceptive – either by commission or omission – is dishonest. There should be no place for dishonesty about an issue which has such a fundamental impact upon people’s lives and the nature of their deaths. And it is outrageous and unconscionable that we have come to expect that professional people of faith will, knowingly, provide false and misleading information to public debates and inquiries while concealing the religious convictions which drive them to do so.
Please read Neil’s excellent appraisal of the Belgian book and join me in my outrage.