Victoria about to legalise euthanasia

It has been another sad day in Victoria. Victoria is set to become the first State in Australia to legalise euthanasia. We used to say how we were better than NSW in everything, but in recent times we have demonstrably shown ourselves to be less safe, less caring, and less reasonable.

In contrast to the NSW Parliament who last week knocked down a euthanasia bill in its early stages, this afternoon the Victorian Legislative Council vote 22-18 in favour of the euthanasia bill. There were several amendments, but none take away the basic design of the legislation. The bill will soon return to the Lower House for final ratification, and becoming law. However, euthanasia won’t be permitted until June 2019, which ironically gives Australians from other States sufficient to move to Victoria and begin making plans (one has to be a resident in for Victoria for 12 months in order to have access to this law).

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If there is one comment from today that sums up this legislation, it comes from Upper House Labor member, Jaclyn Symes. Liberal member, Craig Ondarchie, had asked for an amendment, which would have made it lawful for Doctors to name the cause of death on the death certificate, namely, assisted suicide by the administration of xyz drug. The amendment was an important one,  because under the proposed law,  doctors won’t cite the cause of death, instead they would record the illness with which the patient was suffering.  The amendment failed to find sufficient support. Anyway, Ms Symes said in response to the amendment (to paraphrase),

“Mr Ondarchie, your amendment is cruel and lacks empathy.”

Think about it –  if writing down the true cause of death is cruel and lacks empathy and can’t be recorded, what does that tell us about euthanasia?

A short time ago our Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced to the media, “This is Victoria at its best.”

No, the State sanctioning the killing of human life is not our best, it is our worst.  We should commend our Governments when they do good and serve our communities well, but this is not one of those days. Hundreds of medical professionals urged the Parliament not to accept this legislation, but instead to give proper funding to palliative care. Others encouraged the Parliament to understand the moral line they would cross, should they legalise euthanasia. There were indeed many from within Parliament, and across party lines, who spoke against this bill, but to no avail.

Tonight, it seems as though Victoria is taking glory in our shame. Our Premier and others are  taking pride in a law that is designed to kill people, and that should frighten Victorians and sadden us.

I’m reminded of Proverbs which says,

“Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:17-19)

It is better to stand for what is right and good, and to lose, than to stand and share in the glory of dreadful and immoral lawmaking.  This does mean though, Churches must ready themselves to love and support families who have loved ones who’ve made the decision to take their own life, and we must be ready to offer gentle and wise counsel to people who are considering the path of taking their own life.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others, must ready themselves for how they will address patients who come to them and asking drugs in which to take their life.

Over the course of the debate several members of Parliament and staffers have indicated to me that we should expect the parameters of the euthanasia law to be broadened, in the next 5-10 years. In other words, don’t think that this issue is a done deal.

As the debate continued today in Spring Street, I was preparing a sermon for this Sunday at Mentone Baptist, our passage is Matthew 9:18-34. In this portion of Scripture we find Christ who has come to restore all that is wrong and broken and hurting and sinful. People in the darkest times, who had lost all hope and for whom others could no longer assist, in Jesus they found God who loves and who one day will restore all things.

In that passage there are two blind men who come to Jesus, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” That is a great response for Christians today. As our State further dehumanises its citizens, and demonises those who oppose their agenda, let us cry out to God for his mercy, not only for ourselves but also for those who voted ‘yes’ today, and for those in our community who are struggling with the realisation that death is not far away.

As the song of Isaiah promised,

“Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

 

 

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Victorian Schools to help children transition without parental consent

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

As parents, Susan and I are regularly signing forms that have been sent home from school: there is an excursion to the zoo next Friday, please sign. The school camp is next month, please sign. Your child has been selected in the school’s athletics team and we need your permission for them to compete. Your child was absent yesterday, please notify us as to the reason.

Three months ago I received a call from school, “your son has been hurt while playing rugby. It looks as though he’s broken his arm, can you come to the school and take him to the hospital…”

While no one enjoys paperwork (perhaps with exception to accountants!), both schools and parents understand the importance of these forms. Parents are the primary carers and even educators for their own children, teaching them life skills, morality, religion.  It is the parents joy and responsibility to love their children and to see that they safe and healthy and maturing in life. It is one of the few innate truths that our society still holds, or so I thought.

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Today, someone brought to my attention the updated School Advisory Policy Guide for School Principals and Administrators (updated July 2017). Under the section titled, Gender Diversity, Principals are given the following instruction by the Victorian Education Department:

“Schools must work with students transitioning or affirming their gender identity to prepare and implement a student support plan.”

First of all, schools are not given the discretion to counsel against students transitioning from one gender to another, they are required to affirm the student’s chosen identity, and to prepare and implement a support plan.

“The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible, and should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the needs of the student at the different stages of their transition, and at the different stages of their education.”

Notice the qualification? “The plan should be developed in consultation with the student and their parents or carers, where possible.”

Surely, the Government is not giving schools permission to help children change their gender identity and even their name, without parental involvement and consent?

Let’s keep reading. Under the following section, titled, Parental Consent, we read,

“There may be circumstances in which students wish or need to undertake gender transition without the consent of their parent/s (or carer/s), and/or without consulting medical practitioners.

If no agreement can be reached between the student and the parent/s regarding the student’s gender identity, or if the parent/s will not consent to the contents of a student support plan, it will be necessary for the school to consider whether the student is a mature minor.

If a student is considered a mature minor they can make decisions for themselves without parental consent and should be affirmed in their gender identity at school. Department policy addresses situations in which students, though under the age of 18 years, may be sufficiently mature to make their own decisions, see Decision Making by Mature Minors

How old does a child need to be in order to be defined as mature? Luckily the Department don’t leave us in limbo. They explain,

“there is no specific age when a young person may be deemed sufficiently mature and capable of making his or her own decision”

In other words, school aged children, both secondary and primary, can decide to change their gender, and the school must support this transition and the school does not need to inform or gain parental consent. The policy is written in such a way as though parental consent is advantageous, but it is not necessary. If this is not sufficiently worrying, the school is also not required to gain professional medical advice prior to implementing a plan for gender transition for a child.

This is insane; a school cannot let my child attend a fun excursion without my consent, but they can prepare my child to change their gender and identity?

No one wants these children being bullied or sidelined and left to struggle alone. They are image bearers of God and therefore to be loved and protected. It is not however, the right of a Government or a school to proceed to change a child’s identity without the parents knowledge, consent, and without due medical and psychological assessments. We all understand that there is the rare situation where parents don’t act in the best interests of their children, but these guidelines don’t carefully limit parental exclusion for that specific scenario.

Children do not belong to the Government, and schools are but temporary caretakers who have the permission of the family to teach writing, reading, and counting. What we are again seeing in Victoria, is a Government forcing families to cross into a new world where Government takes control from loving parents, and gives schools freedom to navigate even critical decisions for a child.

Does the State love our children more than us? Do schools, even with their fantastic staff who care for our kids, do they understand them more than parents? This school policy is dangerous, and it will lead to damaging the lives of children and of their families. Not only that, this will create impossible scenarios for schools and their principals, whom I can imagine are rarely adept to make such decisions, and will feel incredibly concerned about about leaving parents in the cold and not enquiring from medical professionals, which is surely a sensible course of action.

Even then, research shows that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will grow out of it in their adolescence or early adulthood, thus delayed action is normally preferred. Research also indicates that transitioning does not necessarily alleviate the stresses associated with gender dysphoria. 

Victorian parents need to be aware of these policies, and others. If you are concerned concerned, please read the policy for yourselves, contact your local State member and share your concerns, graciously and clearly.

Genderism, Atheism, and Civil Discourse falls off the precipice

Last night on live television Clementine Ford called fellow journalist, Miranda Devine, “a c**t”. The ABC has today publicly apologised to Devine, although Ford has begun moving through the expletive vocabulary as people on twitter dare suggest that a civil society requires civil discourse.

The topic for last night’s episode of Hack Live was, Is Male Privilege Bullsh!t?” With such a cleanly articulated topic for conversation, should anyone be surprised that one of the program’s guests took liberty with language?

 

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Only hours earlier The Age published a piece by Andrew Street, asking the question, ‘Why do atheists have to behave like such jerks?’

Andrew Street bemoans the behaviour of some of his fellow atheists including the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Summarising a piece by Mark Oppenheminer, Street admits that such behaviours are a massive problem in the international atheist community. His particular and present concern is the treatment Clementine Ford has received since being invitated to speak at the Atheist Global Convention in Melbourne. Without question, the online abuse is appalling. Street quotes the moderators of the Convention’s Facebook page, ”we have been deleting specific rape and death threats as they occur… there have been substantial numbers”.  There is no justification for such demeaning and disgraceful threats and language, and I’m pleased to hear Andrew Street confronting it.

Toward his conclusion, Street makes a swipe at ACL, trying to analogise ACL with the crude atheists attacking Ford. This comparison is sadly predictable, and greatly misplaced:

He writes, “It also means such groups end up much like the Australian Christian Lobby: filled with reactionary voices that don’t remotely represent the diverse community for which they’re claiming to speak.”

The Australian Christian Lobby may not share views on sexuality and marriage that many atheists hold, but they do not resort to vulgarity, and they are known for their advocacy for women against sexual exploitation. One may not agree with ACL but one cannot associate them with the kind of vitriol that Ford has been subjected to and has also dished out.

Street’s article is revealing, for he is rightly concerned about the attitudes and behaviour of his fellow atheists, but he doesn’t recognise how their creed gives no protection from such assaults, indeed atheism gives license to demean and hate. Not for a second do I think that this is a problem exclusive for atheism, we should keep in mind that the same can also be said of many religions.

While Street’s article doesn’t dig so deep, it helpfully reminds us that worldview matters and that from the heart we speak.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

Much of Australia’s intelligentsia insists that there are few if any axioms and that ethics is mostly freelance. We cannot  however do away with them and the most convinced anti-theist recognises that there are right ways and wrong ways to treat people. This deeply rooted belief doesn’t stem from atheism but from Christianity.

We often treat people in ways similar to how have been treated, and it is a vicious cycle. With a decisiveness and efficacy that makes the Hadron collider appear like recycled garbage, Jesus Christ broke the cycle. He showed us how to live and he lived that life on our behalf. He made himself a substitute, not returning hate for hate but enduring it on the cross. This grace and kindness does more than give us the example par excellence for public conversation, for he liberates the human heart from hate, as well as from pride that stems from forced adherence to cultural conventions. No doubt Christians have at times forgotten this good news, and even proven themselves unChristian by using speech that contradicts the character of Jesus Christ. This love given by Christ changes attitudes and behavior, such that we show respect toward those with whom we have significant disagreement, not because society demands civility, but because we wish to share this infectious love that God has given to us.

Should Victoria introduce laws permitting doctor assisted suicide?

Who can live and not see death,  or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89)

Pastors are one of the few professions who travel with people from birth through to death. It is a privilege to minister to people who are facing their final weeks and days. Sometimes it is a brief period of illness, other times it is an elongated time of suffering. I have known people in their final days who were keen, not to die, but to see their suffering come to an end and to see their hope in Jesus Christ realised. It is an extraordinary privilege to sit beside a person who in approaching death is joyful and at peace. I have also witnessed people wrestling with their own mortality and doubts of what lies beyond death. A pastor’s care in such circumstances also extends to a spouse, to children and friends. Indeed, for many pastors, these relationships are not merely ‘professional’, for those whom we serve are much loved, and they are our friends and family.

Several members of my family work in the medical field, including my wife who worked as a nurse for 10 years, spending much of that time caring for patients with terminal and chronic illnesses. On more than a few occasions she would come home after a shift in tears, having witnessed a patient die.

I wanted to begin by mentioning the above contexts because it would be wrong to assume I am writing from a distance. Indeed, I appreciate that there are many personal stories, from people who hold to various views on euthanasia, and while these stories are all important, stories alone are not suffice for creating law.

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If there is common ground to be found in the debate on euthanasia, albeit a rather morbid commonality, it is agreement that death is a terrible reality in the human experience.

It is no small thing for the State to legalise killing another human being

It is of paramount importance that we recognise that the State exists not only to protect life but to enable human flourishing. Similarly, our health system exists to save human life and to bring healing of body and mind. Introducing law that permits taking a human life is no small thing.

Physician assisted suicide not only contravenes the very purpose of our health system, it would require medical professionals to discard both the Hippocratic oath and the Declaration of Geneva.  Such a law would introduce to society the morality of taking human life, legislating that our society condones the killing of another human being. Again, this is no small and insignificant line in the sand.

Dr Michael Bird recently made the astute observation that Victoria could potentially have two hotlines: one for suicide prevention, and the other, suicide permission. The conflict is clear for everyone to  see.

Palliative Care as a better option

I am not unsympathetic toward those who wish to end their lives; I hate human suffering and long for the day when it will desist forever.  I do not however believe that euthanasia is either morally right, nor is it the only option available for terminally ill Victorians. We have been led to believe that the only choices available are either ongoing treatment or euthanasia, but there is a third option, and one that avoids unnecessarily prolonging a patient’s life and avoids actively killing them, palliative care.

Palliative care is designed to provide the greatest possible comfort for patients, without undue intervention and causing protracted suffering.

Dr Megan Best is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Medical Faculty and works as a palliative care physician in Sydney. In a recent article Dr Best has argued that a better way forward is to provide adequate resources for palliative care. She says,

“While services such as palliative care and hospice can do much to relieve the distress dying people experience, many still do not have access to it. We must do better.”

It is a travesty that many Victorians cannot currently access proper care that they deserve and need at such an urgent time.

Similarly, Dr. Ian Haines is a medical oncologist, and he believes, 

“Like Andrew Denton and others who have observed unbearable suffering in loved ones and the terrible failures of modern medicine in the past, I had once believed that euthanasia was the only humane solution.

I no longer believe that.

The experiences of countless patients and families should be the inspiration for continuing to improve palliative care, for general introduction of advanced care plans and not for euthanasia with its openness to misuse.”

In other words, our Government would do better to invest properly into palliative care, providing the kind of support patients and their families need at such a time.

Unsafe safeguards

The model of euthanasia being considered in Victoria is that which is currently practiced in Oregon, USA. The process involves a Doctor prescribing a lethal capsule to a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

In a report recently published by the Health Department in Oregon, are a series of startling revelations regarding doctor assisted suicide in Oregon: First, 49% of patients state as a major reason for taking their own life, the belief that they are being a burden to their family. Second, once the doctor has prescribed the capsule containing secobarbital or pentobarbital, there is no guaranteed follow up in patient’s home where most are said to take their life, with no safeguards to ensure only the patient can consume the lethal dose. Third, patients with non-terminal illnesses have been given access to these lethal drugs and taken their own life.

Both Dr Megan Best and Dr Ian Haines, are among numerous medical professionals who believe the introduction of euthanasia will leads to abuses and even to amendments and extensions down the track.

Dr Best explains,

‘It upsets healthcare providers when their patients are distressed. Don’t tempt them. You can’t rely on the rules. It is not possible to write a law that can’t be abused. That’s why euthanasia bills get defeated in parliament. Because, even though we ache for those who are suffering and desire to die, we feel responsible to protect the vulnerable who would be at risk of dying under the legislation if it were to pass. Surely the worth of a society lies in how it treats those who can’t care for themselves.’

Does this not at least raise questions in our minds, if not grave concern? If medical professionals working in palliative care are already communicating that the rules will be broken, we ought to take notice.

And for to those who allege slippery slopes are mythical, have they not looked to Northern Europe, and seen how euthanasia laws are now regularly broken and expanded, to include killing children, killing people with mental illness and dementia and even gender dysphoria?

Behind the debates on many ethical issues including euthanasia, is what is known as utilitarian thinking, most notably advocated by Professor Peter Singer. Utilitarian ethics ditches belief in the inherent value of every human life, and instead determines moral good by what the greater number of persons believe will maximise their happiness. In other words, for example, killing unborn children is a moral good when the mother believes the child will not add to her own happiness. This is one of the chief reasons why the number of children with Downs Syndrome has decreased significantly in Western societies, because the vast majority are now killed in the womb.

There are Parliamentary members across the spectrum who are expressing support of a Bill legalising assisted suicide, and similarly across the parties are members who disagree and are concerned. We have all heard heartfelt stories being told from different viewpoints, but we must judge what is right. There is an overarching principle with which the State of Victoria must decide, is it the role and right of Government to introduce law that permits the killing of human life? If so, what promises will be given that no further legislative changes will be made in the future?

When society cuts our humanity away from the imago dei, we  always slide down a path toward dehumanisation. Bringing the two together again requires humility, and more. It requires the loving actions of God to restore and heal this broken image. Is this not the wonder of the Easter event?

If the moral compass of our State is utilitarian ethics, which certainly appears to be the case, then further expansion of euthanasia laws is almost inevitable, as is happening across  many countries who’ve already taken the pledge to kill. Indeed, I have already been informed, on sound advice, that the Bill shortly to be presented to the Victorian Parliament will be in the first place be a conservative pro-euthanasia Bill, but the intent will be to extend it 3 to 5 years down the track.

When we begin defining the value of human life by the kind of utilitarianism pursued by Peter Singer and others, we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a few short years permitting and even pressuring the expungement of all manner of people whom society deems a burden. I realise all this sounds rather Stalinesque and outrageously impossible; we would never traverse such dreadful ground. But look to Belgium and the Netherlands, and consider how our own society has already deemed moral, killing unborn children, and possibly now, those who are at the end of their days.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea

    or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?

    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

    Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:16-18)

Are we prepared to cross the line, or instead, can we do better by providing improved and greater resources in palliative care?

Study shows huge flaws with Safe Schools

Where are we leading our children?

The Safe Schools Program made the front page of my local newspaper this week. One of the local councillors, Paul Peulich, raised concerns over the program at a recent Council meeting. He proposed a motion to bring attention to the issues with Safe Schools, but it was met with ‘silence’ from his fellow councillors.

Following the failed motion, another Councillor,  Steve Staikos, referred to Mr Peulich’s comments as ‘disgraceful’, and Kingston Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley, said no local resident had raised Safe Schools with her as an issue.

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The lack of letters and phone calls to the Mayor’s office is probably due to the fact that Safe Schools is a State and Federal issue, rather than one for local Council, but we are  mistaken if we believe that Kingston City residents are not profoundly concerned with Safe Schools.

While the Federal Government has proposed revisions to the program, parental concerns have been repeatedly ignored by the Victorian Government. Disappointingly, rather than responding to questions with reasoned argument, Government members persist with name calling and accusations of phobia and bigotry.

It is one thing to discount the views of opposition politicians, and even to spurn the concerns of families; but it will be interesting to see what will happen in light of an academic  paper that was published last week, The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program – Finding the Sensible Centre.

Professor Patrick Parkinson AM is one of the nation’s most respected legal academics. He has been researching Safe Schools and has deemed it ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’. 

To be begin with, I fully affirm Professor Parkinson’s words, “it is axiomatic that children and young people should be protected from bullying.” As a parent (and as a Pastor), I do not wish to see any child suffering from bullying. Our schools, churches, and communities ought to be safe places for children.

Throughout the 32 page paper, Professor Parkinson gives detail of the research used by La Trobe University to form the basis of Safe Schools, and what he reveals is shocking.

First of all, the numbers don’t add up. Safe Schools material claims that 10% of the population is same-sex attracted, 4% are transgender or gender diverse, and 1.7% are intersex. None of these statistics are true, in fact all these numbers of wild exaggerations.

For example, when it comes to transgenderism, if 4% was true, it would mean that 1 in every 25 students (approximately one child per classroom) would be transgender. We know anecdotally this is not the case. Where does this number come from? The only citation offered by Safe Schools is from a New Zealand study, which, when read, does not purport that 4% of people are transgender.

Professor Parkinson then quotes the actual report, which says,

“About 1% of students reported that they were transgender (a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl…). Ninety-six percent were not transgender and approximately 3% were not sure.”

Parkinson then states, ‘To count the 3% who answer ‘not sure’ as being ‘gender diverse’ is academically irresponsible. People who answer ‘not sure’ in surveys do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they don’t understand what the questioner is asking.’

He then follows to summarise a series of notable studies, none which found more than 0.52% of people are to some extent transgender.

He concludes the section with this damning assessment:

“A likely explanation for the exaggeration of transgender and intersex conditions is that it is regarded as necessary to support the authors’ belief system to show that gender is “fluid” and can even be chosen.”

This is not science, this is uncontrolled ideology, and one that is aimed at our children.

Professor Parkinson also demonstrates how Safe School’s depends on theories of sexuality that counter best knowledge and practice in psychology and medicine, how it offers flawed legal advice, and how it is creating unsafe environments for children and families who don’t adhere to the program’s contentious views. He even argues that Safe Schools poses genuine risk to students who are struggling with aspects of their psychosexual development.

Safe Schools must be challenged, because our children matter and because truth matters. No doubt a reader will inevitably mis-hear and accuse me of hating LGBTI people; for their good and the sake of all children, should not our education programs be grounded in proven research? Should we not frame school curricula with the best available research, rather than ‘erroneous information’?

Mr Peulich’s concerns have been substantiated, and rather than being met with silence, we must speak and address this, and we must resolve these issues before we abuse a whole generation of children with unscientific pop-psychology. We want effective anti-bullying programs in our schools, but Safe Schools is not it.