“I believe in the sacredness of human life from womb to tomb.”
As Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong, Peter Ingham opposes euthanasia on religious and secular grounds.
He therefore does not support the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia which is back on the state government’s agenda.
A cross-party Private Members Bill is expected to be introduced to State Parliament within months.
Terminally ill NSW residents over the age of 25 would have the legal right to end their own lives with medical assistance under the draft legislation.
To qualify, the patient would need to meet strict conditions including that they are expected to die within 12 months and are of sound mind, and the decision must be signed off by two medical practitioners.
Bishop Ingham believes advances in palliative care and pain management should negate the argument for medically assisted suicide.
“[These advances] enable us to have quality end-of-life care,” he said.
“Our death is the critical point of our lives. We are at the gateway to Eternity, on the edge of the mystery beyond us when people need pastoral care, hope and forgiveness.
“Governments need to put appropriate resources into palliative care, not into medically-assisted suicide, which is increasingly being shown as the worst option for the individual, the family and society.”
Bishop Ingham said he was concerned that there would not be adequate safeguards to protect vulnerable people.
“To say we need checks and balances on medically-assisted suicide is simply admitting the risk of making wrong decisions,” he said.
“We abolished capital punishment partly because of the risk of getting it wrong and that is even after a judge and jury deliberate.
“In medically-assisted suicide, only a couple of medical professionals and the family influence the decision.
“Already in countries with medically-assisted suicide, the terrible situation exists where some people don’t really want to die, but feel coerced by exceptional pressure, perhaps from uncaring family, governments or hospitals.
“The end-of-life decisions can be arrived at or made because of cost and convenience, rather than because of what is humane.”
Bishop Ingham said he understood the desire of people wanting to see their loved one’s pain come to an end by whatever means possible but does not agree that making medically-assisted suicide legal would change the morality of desperate actions.
“Desperate people often make bad decisions which they will later regret,” he said.
“It is another reason that parliamentarians should hold fast to the essential value that all life has profound dignity and value.”
Bishop Ingham said the argument that those who oppose euthanasia have often not had personal experience with someone who is terminally ill was incorrect.
“I have been close to people facing death and dying,” he said.
“In my 53 years as a priest, I have sat by the bedsides of countless terminally-ill people, including my own mum, family, friends, parishioners and strangers as their counsellor, comforter, listener, and have ministered as their priest.
“I’ve shared in this pain with family members and, unsurprisingly, it can sometimes be the one who is dying who gives us words of comfort.
“I have also witnessed the amazing work of doctors and nurses, well-trained and resourced for palliative care.
“It is here that I have seen the full journey of death and dying with true dignity.
“Medically-assisted suicide robs people and their family of this hard, but important journey.”