The following letter was sent this morning to all Members of the Legislative Council in Tasmania. This is related to the End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill in front of the Council.
I’m writing to you today concerning the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) bill. Let us peel away the political language and call it what it is: state-sanctioned suicide.
I have experienced the pain of suicide in my life. After suffering both physically and mentally, my mother took her own life in 2002. This was the most painful thing I’ve ever endured. She determined her own way to die, but it was a choice which caused enormous heartache to our entire family.
Because we recognize the pain it causes, our society invests so much time and energy in suicide prevention. Just yesterday, the “R U OK?” campaign was in action. When a celebrity like Robin Williams takes his own life, after suffering horribly with mental illness, the world laments his choice. We’re told that “suicide is never the answer.” When the TV news features a story about suicide or depression, they always include a mention of the Lifeline number. It seems like society wants to prevent suicide, while this bill aims to allow it. This is double-mindedness.
During the debate over same-sex marriage, proponents of SSM argued that a vote or plebiscite on it would lead to LGBTQ youth committing suicide. This is significant for two reasons. One is that the idea was that removing the cause of their suffering (i.e. a vote on SSM) would save their lives – which were worth saving. The other is that this political activity was considered to be triggering to vulnerable individuals. If this was true, does not consistency then demand that we focus on 1) alleviating suffering, and 2) avoiding triggering vulnerable individuals through political activity related to suicide?
Getting into the legislation itself, one of my chief concerns is the slippery slope. It is a documented fact worldwide that legislation like this is only ever the beginning. My native Canada adopted physician-assisted dying in 2016. This year the Canadian parliament is debating (via Bill C-7) the expansion of provisions for physician-assisted dying. In fact, Tasmania’s proposed legislation even has the slippery slope built into it. Section 142 proposes a review in two years about expanding to include minors under 18 years old. Where will it end? In the Netherlands and Belgium, legislation has progressed past the point of doctors facilitating suicide for mental suffering.
In 2009, Dr. Philip Nitschke appeared before a Tasmania parliamentary inquiry. Under oath, he admitted to breaking the short-lived Northern Territory legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. Dr. Nitschke euthanized Bob Dent. Why? Because he was socially isolated. Dr. Nitschke was never charged. NT police looked the other way. If this legislation is enacted, can we have confidence that Tasmania Police would not do the same if this legislation is violated?
All these kinds of laws are fraught with problems. I urge you to reject this bill and recognize the worth and value of all human life. Human beings are not animals which can be euthanized when they’re suffering. We have a conscience. We have the capacity to love and be loved. If there is suffering, we must seek to alleviate it, not to extinguish the life of the one suffering.
Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to propose legislation which will expand palliative care in Tasmania. We need a network of hospices for professional, compassionate end-of-life care. Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to invest more funds in suicide prevention programs. We have to do more to prevent vulnerable people from hurting themselves and their loved ones. Truly, suicide is never the answer.
Thank you for your time and attention. I wish you God’s blessing as you serve our state.
Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof
Pastor, Launceston Free Reformed Church