On Thursday, 1 July 2021, legislation passed by the Western Australian State Parliament in relation to Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) will be enacted. This legislation will permit a person, under certain specified conditions, to access medication which is designed to cause that person’s death. The legislation will also permit other people, again under certain specified conditions, to aid those who without such assistance would be unable to administer the medication to themselves.
The VAD conversation and ensuing legislation sees people divided according to beliefs, life experience and where each stand on the ethical principles at play. There are those who have long advocated in support of VAD and those who are concerned about this development in our society. There are those who say it is ethically permissible in some circumstances for a person to end their own life and to assist another to do so. Others see no circumstance in which taking one’s own life or helping another to do so is an appropriate action. It would be simplistic to say that this divide occurs only along faith lines although this is often what is asserted. As an example, there are some in the medical world including mental health professionals who do not support VAD out of the things they have seen and know about our bodies and minds and in particular the healthy processing of death and grief.
That said, there are significant elements of the narrative of Christian faith that play into the conversation. The story of God in human history told through the Spirit’s revealing work in the Scriptures, our traditions and our experiences is the story of the worth of human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). It’s the story of a good, intelligent, and intentional Creator God who is matchless in wisdom and power (Psalm 139: Luke 12:24). The story of a God who is love and always acts justly (Exodus 20:13: Matthew 22:36-40; Luke14:15-24). It is the story of freedom to live in peace (shalom) with God, with each other and with all of the created world (Romans 8:19-23; Revelation 21:1-5). A shalom that is made possible in the incarnate life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Churches are shalom communities whose mission is to bring shalom into their communities. So, how will this identity and this mission inform how we respond? Here are some thoughts for you to consider.
First, recognise that the law allows for people to choose voluntary assisted death (within certain parameters) and it is a matter for each person to consider within the context of their circumstances.
It’s good for us to remember that people considering voluntary assisted dying (within the legal parameters) will not have arrived at that point lightly. Individuals within families may well have different opinions. There will be significant pain and angst and even ambivalence and our best response is likely to be a pastoral one - offering support and care and prayer rather than making this a place to demand conformity to our particular convictions.
Put differently, there is always a place to respect the rights of another to have access to professional help and pastoral support so as to make a decision and to process decisions and the implications of decisions without fear of being shamed or judged.
And of course, as Baptists, we declare and protect this freedom. The Baptist distinctive of liberty of conscience means that instead of being protective of a position, we lean in and listen across differences to the experiences of others. This doesn’t mean we will arrive at the same conclusions as others of course but it does mean we listen appreciatively to the stories of how God guides and leads people. It does mean we can acknowledge courage and integrity in others as they navigate the challenges of life.
There is always a place to lean in, listen and journey alongside; to be in relationships that give you and others meaningful, respectful, appropriate opportunity to tell how your story is part of God’s story and to see how the other person’s story is part of the narrative too. It is in this relational space that we will find transformative opportunities to tell the good news of the freedom Jesus brings us.
As you go about your faith shaped lives in your own communities and spend time yourselves and with others grappling with some of the tough experiences of life (and I hope the good times too!) may you return again and again to the comforting clear direction Jesus gave us when he said:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Luke 22:37-38)
As always, please feel free to respond to me with your thoughts. Karen Siggins - Interim Director of Ministries, Baptist Churches of WA