The Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Revd Harry Goodhew, spoke out this month against euthanasia following the first case of legal euthanasia in the Northern Territory. The Archbishop urged that the Federal Government to vote for an anti-euthanasia bill which would effectively overturn the Northern Territory voluntary euthanasia law.
"The moral shape of our nation is under threat with the first legally sanctioned euthanasia death in the Northern Territory," said the Archbishop, "and so is the relationship between doctors and their patients. It has now been shown to us what this means doctors are no longer those who save lives. Under the Northern Territory law they are also those who kill.
"We must feel the deep grief of the wife of the one who died, and also understand the human pain which brought about this ending of a man's life. But these facts cannot be allowed to persuade us that this action was right. It is morally wrong. l cannot approve it from any point of view.
"This act in the Northern territory makes the passing of Kevin Andrews' Private Member's Bill in the Federal Parliament a crucial Bill for the life and health of this nation. I call on all our Federal MPs to support the Bill with urgent unequivocal deliberation.
"This act tells us that some now believe that some lives are not worth living. But the historic protection surrounding human life up to now has served us well. It has always highlighted the value of each human life and each person, no matter what their circumstances, and it has acknowledged that without that protection human life is fragile to the whims, greed or even bigotry of others. It is dangerous and purposeless to challenge this historic protection as we have just seen done."
The Archbishop's call came after Bob Dent died after a lethal drug injection on 22 September. Bob Dent, aged 66, died in the presence of his wife, Judy, and his doctor, Philip Nitschke, a well-known euthanasia crusader, after Mr Dent pressed a key on a computer that administered a lethal dose of drugs. Mr Dent had gone to the Northern Territory as a Church of England missionary in 1959, but after he became disillusioned with Church politics, he left the Church and became a building estimator. He converted to Buddhism soon after he was diagnosed with cancer five years ago.
The Primate of Australia's Anglican Church and Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Revd Dr Keith Rayner, said in the Australian newspaper that what was now an act of choice would turn into "subtle pressure" to end life, so that people could avoid being a burden on family and friends. "It will not be long before economic factors intervene," he said.
While Church leaders' condemnations of euthanasia was close to unanimous, nearly half the nation's Protestant churchgoers think people should have the choice of death rather than suffer the torment of an incurable illness, according to a national survey taken earlier this year.
The survey of 6500 congregations in 19 Christian denominations found that 40 per cent agreed with euthanasia in such circumstances, while 30 per cent disagreed. The rest were uncertain. Older church attenders were more likely to agree with euthanasia, including about 50 per cent of those aged 60 and over.