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It's difficult to conceive of a less loving, or Christian, act.

MEDIA RELEASE: Go Gentle Australia condemns the Catholic Church’s edict that terminally ill people who end their lives with voluntary assisted dying will be denied spiritual care.

Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane and former president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Mark Coleridge told the Australian newspaper people choosing voluntary assisted dying (VAD) would not receive Holy Communion for the dying, a key part of the last rites.

Priests would also withhold the concluding Prayer for the Dead.

“This pronouncement is a directive to priests to abandon their terminally ill parishioners should they make the choice to pursue voluntary assisted dying,” Dr Linda Swan, Go Gentle Australia’s CEO, said.

“This will cause unnecessary distress for dying people and their loved ones, at what is already a deeply upsetting time. This is not compassionate or person-centred care and it is not the care that dying Australians and their families have a right to expect,” Dr Swan said.

“Voluntary Assisted Dying allows eligible Australians with a terminal illness who are experiencing unbearable suffering to have a choice about their end-of-life care. For Church leaders to try and coerce people away from this lawful medical treatment is at odds with the law and public opinion."

Dr Linda Swan called on priests of good conscience to ignore the edict and act according to their hearts. 

“We feel for those priests, who may have ministered to that dying person, and their families, for many years, who are now being told by their leaders to walk away and effectively damn them at the moment of their death,” Dr Swan said.

Andrew Denton, Go Gentle’s founding director, described the pronouncement as “a shameful act, devoid of love or Christian mercy towards the dying”.

“It is difficult to conceive of a less loving – or, indeed, Christian – act. And it is little wonder that the latest census revealed that the Catholic Church in Australia is losing members at an historic rate.

“If the leaders of this institution – which receives enormous subsidies from Australian taxpayers – wish to continue their acts of ferocity and contempt towards the wishes and laws of the broader Australian community, then they can expect to see more of the same.”

Mr Denton said the Church’s extreme rhetoric would not win it any friends. Its position on voluntary assisted dying – like on so many other issues – was out of touch with the views of its own parishioners and Australians in general.

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that between 70-80% of Australians support voluntary assisted dying laws. The same polls show support for VAD among Catholics at around 75%.

Terminally ill people at the end of their life deserve compassion – not abandonment.

“These are people who are already dying and simply want to avoid the worst of the suffering their illness has in store,” Mr Denton said.

“Does the Archbishop instruct his priests to do the same to people who choose to end dialysis? Or who choose to stop chemotherapy, because living with the effects of treatment is worse than the prospect of dying?”

Media contact: Steve Offner, 0426 283 865 [email protected]

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