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To speak out or stay silent?

Bishop Helen-Ann reflects on the current euthanasia debate

Reflection is always a useful tool.  Sometimes I wonder if it is God's way of helping us gain perspective on situations, both good and bad?  That's the role of the Holy Spirit, cajoling us, nudging us always to be the people that God is purposing us to be.  The end of a day gives us an opportunity to review and think back on the day, and commit it to God's mercy.

I've used social media now for a few years, initially Facebook (which I no longer use), and more recently since I became a bishop both Twitter and Instagram.  New worlds have been opened up to me, and I have been amazed at the networks of people that I have connected with.  I've made friends and contacts with people all over the world, and particularly closer to home through the #lovethetron movement, a group of people who have come to be amongst my most valued and key encouragers and supporters, most of whom are nothing to do with the church in any formal sense.  As a rule, I stay away from engaging in debates on Twitter, however one issue has prompted me to dabble my fingers on the keyboard of engagement, which has caused me to reflect.

I've made no secret of my opposition to any move towards legislating for euthanasia.  Earlier in the year I joined a much respected retired bishop in making a submission to the parliamentary select committee.  It was a short but important stand in support of some of our most vulnerable members of society.  I won't rehearse the submission we made here, but my views are clear, and my Christian faith underpins my perspective.

My impression here in New Zealand is that our media does not necessarily report on this topic in a balanced way.  I'd go so far as to suggest that it is biased in favour of euthanasia.  So when I listened to a report on Radio New Zealand which highlighted the issue's current prominence due to a private member's bill being drawn, my interest was piqued, particularly when that Member of Parliament, the Act Party leader David Seymour offered the opinion that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders backed a change in the law.  There was no debate or discussion; what he said was left as fact, unchallenged.  When I subsequently read an assessment of the submissions made to the Select Committee which suggested the opposite (that 77% of those who bothered to speak out and make a submission opposed euthanasia) I decided in the interests of balance to tweet about it.

The response was interesting, and resulted in a relatively brief exchange which has left me in this place of reflection.  I accept that polls can result in different views, and I respect the views of those who hold different views than I do.  But with this issue, I believe that even if a poll indicates a view in opposition to my own, I cannot agree that a potential fundamental change to society is wise and morally correct.  That's a pretty basic argument, but I wonder how we might engage in debate with grace and humility?  This is something I pray for daily, and I admit I don't always get it right (as my Twitter conversation partner told me)!

I will happily accept a poll that the majority of New Zealanders are in favour of euthanasia, but that won't change my mind on this issue.  I wonder how many of those people know about palliative care?  I wonder if they have considered the slippery slope that any change could lead to?  I wonder if we have thought long and hard about what sort of society we want to live in?  One that values life, that offers care and support to people in the most dire of circumstances, who promotes hope over fear, a willingness to place all things in the hands of the God who created us and loves us more than we will ever know?  The God who has known suffering and pain, but who also promises eternal life?  That's a story that millions of people across our world live and die by, in hope and a belief that is not stupid or ill-formed, but which is formed out of conviction and trust.

'The value we place on life is the measure by which we are known. May we have the courage to stand by that conviction.'

That's almost the length of a 140 character tweet.  And I'll leave it there, with reflective grace, and hope.


Story Published: 11th of June - 2017

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