Catholic healthcare professionals, chaplains and priests receive direction and pastoral assistance to work with those who decide to die under the End-of-Life Choice Act, which comes into effect on November 7.
Although the Church opposes the deliberate taking of human lives, it cannot refuse those who choose “physician-assisted dying” under the new law, said Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, vice -President of the New Zealand Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Life presents us with many questions and choices,” said Bishop Lowe. “As a church, we try to help people view these questions and choices through a Christian lens. People often find themselves in complex places. In these times, the Church tries to guide people as best they can, but people are making their own choices.
“Often as a church we find ourselves caring for people facing the consequences of such choices. Our pastoral practice is always called to be the reflection of our God, who does not abandon his people.
The bishops wrote a pastoral declaration and one set of guidelines for chaplains, priests and other Catholic professionals who takes care of the dying. The Church’s Te Kupenga Catholic Leadership Institute held workshops on working with the law.
The Catholic Church in Aotearoa in New Zealand opposed the referendum on the end-of-life law held in the 2020 general election. However, the referendum was passed.
Bishop Lowe said “physician-assisted dying” or euthanasia would not be offered in Catholic nursing homes or hospices, just as many non-Catholic caregivers would not.
“However, it will be available at a number of hospitals and other public health care facilities across the country. These are the places of work or ministry for part of our Catholic community. We do not need to deny the objective harm of euthanasia to accompany, with consolation and hope, those who might feel attracted or pushed towards this type of death, ”said Bishop Lowe.
“The legal availability of euthanasia in New Zealand does not change Catholic beliefs about the practice. At the same time, our faith tells us that there is no place or situation, no matter how uncomfortable, where our faith cannot be expressed, or the grace of God encountered.
Bishop’s document “Ministers of Consolation and Hope – Ngā Kaiārahi o te Aroha me te Tūmanako” contains “principles and guidelines for those working with those considering physician-assisted dying and who take care of it ”.
The pastoral declaration is titled “Bearers of Consolation and Hope – Ngā Kaihāpai o te Aroha me te Tūmanako”.
The bishops said that before writing the statement, they interviewed Catholics, including priests, who work with the dying, sick and vulnerable.
“The responses we received were overwhelmingly characterized by a desire to be compassionate in the face of complexity, combined with a deep respect for the Church’s teaching on euthanasia,” explained the pastoral statement.
“We do not need to deny the objective harm of euthanasia to accompany, with consolation and hope, those who might feel drawn or pushed towards this type of death.”
In the documents, the bishops drew on several sources, including the scriptures, the Church’s tradition of caring for the sick and dying, and masterful teaching, such as the “Samaritainus Bonus” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Francis ordered to be published last year.
The bishops noted some of the truths set out in the CDF document that should be kept in mind. In many cases, the CDF document states, the demand for death is a symptom of the disease, made worse by isolation and discomfort. Demands for death are not necessarily a genuine desire for euthanasia, but are almost always anguished appeals for help and love. Therefore, the expectation of the Church is that “spiritual accompaniment be offered to those considering assistance in dying who request it from a carrier or servant of consolation and hope.”
The bishops also noted the likelihood of diminished responsibility in those who ask for this type of death, adding that hope is never extinguished, and even a firm intention to opt for assisted death only becomes objective reality. ‘at the time it is administered.
When spiritual accompaniment is requested from a priest, chaplain or pastoral worker, the “desire for a compassionate companion is already a sign of good intention”.
“By accepting their request in a spirit of mutual trust, we recognize and respect the faith and conscience of the person. It involves a commitment to listen to them deeply as their sacred journey to death unfolds. “
Pastoral and spiritual accompaniment can be a “hikoi of hope”, which opens the way to an encounter with God.
Presenting the loving face of the Church as a mother “helps allay the terrible and desperate desire to end her life,” the bishops said, again referring to the CDF document.
Therefore, said the bishops, it is “appropriate that prayers be offered for and with those facing death and their family or whanau.”
“Likewise, the sacraments of the Church – encounters with God – should be provided to those who ask for them. In accordance with pastoral practice in other areas, the sacraments should never be refused except in the very rare cases where someone seeks them in bad faith. All ministers have the right to assume that a person asking for the sacraments is doing so in good faith. “
The bishops noted that accompanying a person who expresses a desire for assisted death does not imply moral agreement on the part of the attendant. He also does not ask those accompanying to suspend belief in the teaching expressed by the Church on euthanasia. On the contrary, accompaniment ensures that no one is abandoned to desolation.
The bishops added that the Catholic ethical tradition makes clear distinctions between “moral distance”, “assent” and “physical proximity”. “Support does not necessarily mean approval. “
At the same time, cooperation in the act of facilitating or administering assisted death should be excluded in any case, the bishops stressed.
“The implementation of assisted dying for people with life-limiting illnesses will put many vulnerable people at risk. These include the elderly who may think they have become a burden on family and society, and many others, some of whom will be young.
The bishops recognized that family members of people requesting assistance in dying may have different opinions and should be listened to and cared for with great sensitivity.
Speaking of individual conscience, the bishops said that “if a priest, chaplain, pastoral worker, health professional or caregiver decides that there is a limit to his or her ability to accompany a person requesting aid in dying, such a decision must be fully respected ”.
At the same time, they should ensure that “arrangements are made for the person to be accompanied by another”.
Regarding funerals, the bishops said parishes should “provide an integrated model of pastoral care, with priests ready to affirm God’s mercy by presiding over funerals or tangi for those whose motivation to choose medical assistance in dying. may well come from an act which could be seen as that of anguish ”.
The entry into force of the law on the choice of the end of life offers Catholics “the opportunity to concretely renew our commitment to the dignity of each person”, added the bishops.
These means include advocacy for effective and equitably available palliative care; to form outward-looking parishes which cater to lonely, sick, elderly and disabled people and their whānau; and provide prayer and other support to those caring for people at the end of life, including those considering physician-assisted dying.
The pastoral statement can be viewed as a pdf file at: www.catholic.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Bearers-of-Consolation-and-Hope.pdf
The guidelines and principles can be viewed as a pdf file at: www.catholic.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Bearers-of-Consolation-and-Hope.pdf