Tag Archives: End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill Tasmania

That Other Preacher, That Other Religion

He was so passionate, so intense.  He had a conspicuous religious fervour.  The man was on fire; he was preaching.  His pulpit was a small lectern in Tasmania’s Legislative Council.  The topic of his sermon was his “End-of-Life Choices Bill.”

Last week as I watched Mike Gaffney present his bill, at first it merely seemed to me that he was preaching.  But reflecting on it further, I came to realize he was a genuine master of the homiletical arts.   And Gaffney was using his homiletical gifts in service of his religion.

Tasmania (our home for the last 5 years) has held the line when it comes to state-sanctioned suicide.  Australia’s smallest state has faced several attempts to introduce legislation which would allow it, but so far each time those efforts have been in vain.  There’s great concern that this time will be different.  There definitely seems to be a strong degree of public support for it.

Reading or hearing those expressions of support, you often come across the idea that opposition to state-sanctioned suicide comes from religious people, whereas non-religious people (like Mike Gaffney) support it.  It gets framed as a religion versus no-religion debate, often with a few “separation of church and state” sentiments sprinkled on.  But is that really what’s happening here?

It’s all going to depend on how you understand “religion.”  If you understand “religion” to refer to belonging to an organized church (or synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.), the debate could be framed in these terms.  Specifically, most opponents of state-sanctioned suicide belong to Christian churches, whereas many supporters don’t.

However, most dictionaries will tell you that “religion” has a broader frame of reference.  For example, it can refer to sincerely held beliefs about what’s ultimate in life.  From a Christian perspective, whatever is ultimate in your life functions as a god, even if you don’t refer to it as a deity.  If it’s ultimate and functions like a god in your life, then regardless of what you call it, it’s a god to you.  And you’re a religious person.

He’d probably disagree with me, but Mike Gaffney is a religious person.  He’s devout in his commitment to an ultimate belief.  His ultimate belief appears to be personal autonomy.  It’s the right to individual self-determination.  Nothing is above that.  This is the root religious belief driving so many cultural trends:  transgenderism/LGBTQ, abortion, and state-sanctioned suicide.  This belief says that the individual is ultimate – the individual is essentially an autonomous god.  So if “god” says he is now a she, no one may question “god.”  If “god” chooses death for the child in the womb, no one may question “god.”  When “god” says that life is too much and “god” wants to “die with dignity,” then no one should question what “god” says.  Gods are always ultimate in authority and power.

It’s no wonder then that, given a pulpit, devotees of this religion can be such powerful, passionate preachers.  They’re on fire for their religion and will do everything in their power to spread it.  I was going to write “evangelize,” but that would give the impression that this religion of individual autonomy has good news on offer.  It doesn’t.  There’s no good news in a religion promoting death.  Christians have a religion of life – a gospel which proclaims a Saviour who is the resurrection and the life. We have a gospel which leads us to protect and honour life.  So why aren’t we just as, if not more, zealous than Mike Gaffney?


Open Letter to All Tasmanian MLCs

The following letter was sent this morning to all Members of the Legislative Council in Tasmania.  This is related to the End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill in front of the Council.

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Dear MLCs,

I’m writing to you today concerning the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) bill.  Let us peel away the political language and call it what it is:  state-sanctioned suicide.

I have experienced the pain of suicide in my life.  After suffering both physically and mentally, my mother took her own life in 2002.  This was the most painful thing I’ve ever endured.  She determined her own way to die, but it was a choice which caused enormous heartache to our entire family.

Because we recognize the pain it causes, our society invests so much time and energy in suicide prevention.  Just yesterday, the “R U OK?” campaign was in action.  When a celebrity like Robin Williams takes his own life, after suffering horribly with mental illness, the world laments his choice.  We’re told that “suicide is never the answer.”  When the TV news features a story about suicide or depression, they always include a mention of the Lifeline number.  It seems like society wants to prevent suicide, while this bill aims to allow it.  This is double-mindedness.

During the debate over same-sex marriage, proponents of SSM argued that a vote or plebiscite on it would lead to LGBTQ youth committing suicide.  This is significant for two reasons.  One is that the idea was that removing the cause of their suffering (i.e. a vote on SSM) would save their lives – which were worth saving.  The other is that this political activity was considered to be triggering to vulnerable individuals.  If this was true, does not consistency then demand that we focus on 1) alleviating suffering, and 2) avoiding triggering vulnerable individuals through political activity related to suicide?

Getting into the legislation itself, one of my chief concerns is the slippery slope.  It is a documented fact worldwide that legislation like this is only ever the beginning.  My native Canada adopted physician-assisted dying in 2016.  This year the Canadian parliament is debating (via Bill C-7) the expansion of provisions for physician-assisted dying.  In fact, Tasmania’s proposed legislation even has the slippery slope built into it.  Section 142 proposes a review in two years about expanding to include minors under 18 years old.  Where will it end?  In the Netherlands and Belgium, legislation has progressed past the point of doctors facilitating suicide for mental suffering.

In 2009, Dr. Philip Nitschke appeared before a Tasmania parliamentary inquiry.  Under oath, he admitted to breaking the short-lived Northern Territory legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.  Dr. Nitschke euthanized Bob Dent.  Why?  Because he was socially isolated.  Dr. Nitschke was never charged.  NT police looked the other way.  If this legislation is enacted, can we have confidence that Tasmania Police would not do the same if this legislation is violated?

All these kinds of laws are fraught with problems.  I urge you to reject this bill and recognize the worth and value of all human life.  Human beings are not animals which can be euthanized when they’re suffering.  We have a conscience.  We have the capacity to love and be loved.  If there is suffering, we must seek to alleviate it, not to extinguish the life of the one suffering.

Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to propose legislation which will expand palliative care in Tasmania.  We need a network of hospices for professional, compassionate end-of-life care.  Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to invest more funds in suicide prevention programs.   We have to do more to prevent vulnerable people from hurting themselves and their loved ones.  Truly, suicide is never the answer.

Thank you for your time and attention.  I wish you God’s blessing as you serve our state.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Pastor, Launceston Free Reformed Church


Fatal Flaws

Last year I was invited to an evening with a filmmaker named Kevin Dunn.  He’d made a documentary about euthanasia and assisted suicide.  During the course of the evening, I discovered not only that he’s a fellow Canadian, but he’s even from Hamilton, Ontario — the place I last served as a pastor.  And here he was in far-off Tasmania, presenting his new film.  He spoke and gave some background to the film and also showed us a few clips.  At the time, in 2019, there had already been four attempts to introduce “assisted dying” laws into Tasmania — and all had failed.  However, we were warned that proponents are nothing if not persistent.  Next week, the Legislative Council of Tasmania (the Upper House) will be debating and voting on another bill, this one entitled End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill.

One of the pro-life groups I follow on Facebook is Lifechoice Tasmania.  They posted a link last week to the Fatal Flaws film, encouraging folks to watch it.  I posted a comment mentioning that I’d been to the evening with Kevin Dunn in Launceston and was thinking of maybe screening the film for our church.  One thing led to another and, together with Lifechoice Tasmania and ACL we showed the film last night for a max capacity audience.

It’s a powerful documentary.  Kevin Dunn is a story-teller.  Here he uses the power of story to share what’s happened in places like Newfoundland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the USA (yes, I know Newfoundland is not a country).  He speaks with real people, some of whom were pressured into dying (but didn’t), some who wanted to die (and did), and the families of some who died who had no choice.  Here’s a clip:

Dunn also interviews pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide advocates and presents their side of the story.  Interestingly, even for some of them, places like the Netherlands have gone too far in allowing people to take their own lives for mental suffering or just being tired of life.

If there’s one constant thread running through Fatal Flaws, it’s that there’s always a trend downwards.  Sometimes slippery slope arguments hold little value, but in this instance there is demonstrable proof that once the first step is taken, it all goes down hill from there.  Pro-death advocates are never satisfied — they always want the boundaries to be expanded.  Here in Australia, Lyle Shelton tells the story of Dr. Philip Nitschke in his new book I Kid You Not.  The Northern Territory briefly had euthanasia legislation from 1996-1997.  At a parliamentary inquiry in Tasmania, Nitschke admitted under oath to breaking the law to kill “a socially isolated patient.”  And he was never charged.

I recommend Fatal Flaws to all readers, not just those in Tasmania.  Even if you’re in a country or region that’s already allowing this evil, you can be sure there is or there will be pressure to expand it.  In Canada, for example, there’s Bill C-7 which will permit euthanasia for people with dementia, if that person had previously been approved (more info here).  And on this love affair with death goes…

A final note:  Fatal Flaws is not a Christian documentary.  It doesn’t speak about what the Bible teaches or a Christian worldview perspective on assisted suicide/euthanasia.  Nevertheless, it provides all the needed context to inform a Christian perspective on these matters.

Fatal Flaws can be rented or purchased online here.