Published: February 21, 2024

Concerning Territory: NT surveys public support
on euthanasia for mentally ill

Northern Territory Labor is surveying whether there is public support for allowing people to access euthanasia because they are suffering from a mental illness, prompting concerns the government was considering offering vulnerable patients “death instead of the support they need”.

With the NT planning on being the final jurisdiction in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying, residents have been encouraged to answer a government survey on how they think the Territory’s scheme should be designed.

Northern Territory Labor is surveying whether there is public support for allowing people to access euthanasia because they are suffering from a mental illness, prompting concerns the government was considering offering vulnerable patients “death instead of the support they need”.

With the NT planning on being the final jurisdiction in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying, residents have been encouraged to answer a government survey on how they think the Territory’s scheme should be designed.

It includes a question of whether people should be able to use the scheme “if they only have a mental health condition as the reason for their access”.

The survey also asked whether dementia patients should be able to initiate a plan to euthanise themselves when their disease has progressed to the point they can no longer consent.

The questionnaire – which the Territory government itself describes as containing “controversial” ideas – also asks if the scheme should be limited to terminally ill people or to patients with a predicted life expectancy of six months for most conditions.

It also asks if a person should be able to use the scheme if they are not an NT resident but have “cultural or family connections” to the Territory. The NT government, now led by Labor Chief Minister Eva Lawler, began the consultation to reintroduce VAD laws in November, with the survey closing at the end of the month.

The NT will follow the ACT in establishing a euthanasia scheme after federal parliament in 2022 overturned a 27-year ban on territories legalising the practice.

Voluntary assisted dying is not available on the basis of a mental illness or dementia alone in any Australian state, with patients required to have a physical condition expected to cause their death in six to 12 months, depending on the jurisdiction.

The ACT’s proposed model is the most liberal in Australia but it only includes access for people with a terminal illness, with the Barr government to consider access for dementia patients after the scheme is operational.

Palliative care clinician Maria Cigolini, the administrator of advocacy group Health Professionals Say No, said the questions asked in the survey were “biased and insensitive to many of the issues that are facing Territorians and First Nations people”.

‘Insane’: ACT Human Rights Commission calls for teens to be eligible for assisted dying

News Corp columnist Louise Roberts says proposals for teenagers under the age of 18 to be eligible for assisted dying are “extremely dangerous” and “insane”. The ACT Human Rights Commission has called for teenagers to be allowed to access voluntary assisted dying. They have argued that capping the scheme at More

Associate Professor Cigolini said it was problematic to introduce VAD legislation in the NT because of the significant health and social issues facing its large Indigenous population, and poor access to health services, including palliative care.

“We already see in the Territory higher mortality rates, lower life expectancy, higher death rates from chronic disease, higher prevalence of mental health problems, high rates of alcohol abuse and smoking,” she said.

“There is a crisis at the moment with crime and incarceration, and also poor access to healthcare and social services in general.

“For example, for every dollar that is spent in mental health services in major cities in Australia only 10 per cent per capita is spent in remote rural areas.

“If you look at the First Nations suicide rates, they are twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians, and in general there is a higher mortality in this group at a younger age.

“So what we really need is not another way for these people to die, what we need is upstream strategies to promote resilience and healing and access to healthcare and social services.”

Associate Professor Cigolini said the prospect of mental health patients accessing voluntary assisted dying when they did not have a physical condition was concerning, especially against the backdrop of the shortage of mental health services.

“What you’re doing is you’re offering them death instead of the support that they need,” Associate Professor Cigolini said.

“You’re offering them death when they are experiencing duress from their illness and for which symptoms of this likely include suicidal risk and poor judgment or capacity.”

Former NT chief minister Marshall Perron is the architect of Australia’s first VAD scheme.

The Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet was contacted for comment.

The Netherlands allows dementia patients to leave advance directives that they wish to access euthanasia once their disease has started to develop, and allows for patients suffering from severe psychiatric disorders to access physician-assisted suicide. Belgium and Luxembourg also allow mental health patients to access VAD, with Canada last month postponing its own plans to allow euthanasia for mental illness.

Former NT chief minister Marshall Perron, who oversaw Australia’s first VAD scheme in 1996, pushed for the government to legislate a framework for patients with an “incurable but not terminal condition” to leave advance directives for when they lose their faculties.

“I strongly believe that it is simply a matter of time before the community desire for these initiatives will be met,” Mr Perron said in his submission to the NT government.

“The question is, will the NT parliament advance the case?”

Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society president Judy Dent, whose husband, Robert, was the first Australian to access the NT’s VAD scheme before it was outlawed, said she supported including dementia patients in the framework.

“You can’t turn dementia around, you’re not going to be able to cure them, so please give them the peace of mind that they’re not going to go on forever and ever,” Ms Dent said.

By Rhiannon Down
As appeared in The Australian on February 21, 2024

Published: February 20, 2024

Bishop Charles Gauci encourages participation
in the VAD Consultation

🙏🏼 My dear brothers and sisters,

Our government is considering legislation on Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD), and your voice matters. The consultation closes on March 1st.

💬 As Catholics, we uphold the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death. Dying is a sacred journey, and we’re committed to ensuring dignity in that process.

With modern palliative care, suffering can be minimised. Our focus is on alleviating pain and providing support for a dignified passing.

💡 We must educate ourselves on palliative care options and ensure pastoral support for those facing end-of-life decisions.

🏥 Let’s advocate for medical professionals’ rights and ensure hospitals remain sanctuaries of life.

🗣️ Your participation in the consultation ensures a balanced outcome. Together, let’s uphold the dignity of life.

🙏🏼 God bless you as you reflect and respond.

+Charles

Published: January 18, 2024

Invitation to Crucial Discussion
on Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD)

Dear Brothers, Sisters, Friends,

In light of the ongoing consultation by the Northern Territory Government on Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD), I extend an invitation to you for a crucial and enlightening discussion.

Our position as a Catholic Church is firmly rooted in upholding the dignity of every human person from conception to the end of life. Recognising the importance of providing proper medical palliative care and robust pastoral support, we believe in helping individuals face their pain with dignity.

To delve deeper into this matter, I am convening a meeting with a panel of experts on:

🗓️ Saturday, February 3rd, 10-11:30 AM

📍 Mary MacKillop Hall, next to the Cathedral on Smith Street, Darwin.

All are invited, and your presence is crucial in fostering a comprehensive dialogue. This insightful session promises thoughts and reflections from experts across the country.

We look forward to your active involvement in this significant discussion. 🙏

Yours in Christ,

+Charles

Published: September 04, 2022

Bishop’s initial comments on euthanasia

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have heard a lot recently about assisted suicide and euthanasia. I think it is important to revisit our Church’s teaching on these matters. We believe in the dignity of human life in all of its stages, from conception to death. We are created in the image of God. All human life is sacred, and there are no exceptions. Taking the life of a human being is considered a very serious matter.

We understand a lot more because of the developments in psychology about suicide. There is a lot more to learn. Many people who take their own lives are often impeded by depression and other conditions from making full rational decisions on this matter. We need to treat those who have attempted to take their own lives with compassion and with the love of God.

I know only too well after years of Ordained Pastoral Ministry the anguish of families and friends who have experienced suicide among one of their own.

Today I wish to speak specifically about the topic of assisted suicide and Euthanasia. Assisted suicide is providing the means for someone to take their own life, this is done out of a sense of compassion for that person. Euthanasia is actually physically doing the act of ending their life at their own request again for compassionate reasons. Both are used as a means of ‘mercy killing’ in the case of someone experiencing pain or serious discomfort in a terminal illness.

I have ministered to many people in their dying process as a Priest for many years. It has always been a profound privilege for me to do so. I have experienced this also with the members of my own family and with dear friends. I have learned how important the dying process is for those who are journeying through it. I have seen people grow and change as they come to terms with various aspects of life during this time. I’ve witnessed ‘unfinished business’ find some resolution for people at this time.

I have also learned how important palliative care is. Palliative care is the treatment and support given to the dying. No one should experience unbearable pain anymore. We have the medical means to make people much more comfortable than ever before.

We also have as a result of much reflection the insights of psychology and sound spirituality and better pastoral means to help people travel through this time in a much more positive way. Organisations such as ‘Calvary Care’ and others present here in the NT specialise in palliative care. We must ensure that we do everything possible to help people die with dignity. We have no obligation to use extraordinary means to prolong life endlessly. There is a time when we can with good moral conscience let nature take its course.

We do not have a moral obligation to keep on using ‘extraordinary’ means to prolong life.  Giving pain relief to a person in the dying process which might unintentionally shorten life by a short time is not suicide and is morally permissible in our Christian understanding. As well as very good palliative care, we need to keep improving and providing very good Pastoral care to the dying and their loved ones.

Dying can be and often is difficult for people. Jesus as a human being struggled with death. From my experience, we can help people find peace even in these difficult moments and in the midst of challenges. I am not saying this is always easy, but I have seen it happen.

Our Christian teaching is very clear, taking our own lives is not a Christian practice. It is not to be encouraged. It is objectively wrong.

Our guide in these matters as Christians should be Jesus and the Spirit-filled wisdom of the Christian community given to us by Jesus.

However, we are not in the business of judging individuals, we leave that to God whose love is beyond measure. Our job is to never stop loving. I will be speaking more on this matter in the near future. Please keep this whole matter in your prayers and please remember while we need clarity about our faith we always act with respect and compassion for all.

I am continuing to be advised by experienced medical professionals both here and across the country.

Yours in Christ,
+Charles