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Prominent elder condemns church over assisted dying stance

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Everald Compton has served the Uniting Church for 62 years but says they should be fined if they continue to stand in the way of voluntary assisted dying.

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Queensland representatives of the church are due to testify before a parliamentary committee today, ahead of MPs voting on the introduction of Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws.

In a submission, endorsed by UnitingCare and Wesley Mission, the church has taken issue with the proposed arrangements for terminally-ill people in church-run facilities wanting to access VAD.

While the Palaszczuk Government intends to allow workers to conscientiously object to playing any role in VAD, and church-run facilities to essentially opt out, the church wants further safeguards to protect its rights and the rights of other religious patients or residents.

In cases where a patient or resident wishes to access VAD, and it is not unreasonable for them to be transferred elsewhere for that to occur, the church wants the law to only require its facilities to “support” such moves, not “facilitate” them as currently drafted. It argues that if someone wants to die early, the church should neither provide the services nor the funding to help them.

“Where it is reasonable for a person to be transferred, and an entity holds a conscientious objection (and this information is given to the resident prior to entering the facility), then we argue that the entity should not be obligated to allow self-administration or practitioner administration,” the Uniting Church submission states.

“This would give entities more scope in developing a policy and practice approach for a variety of contexts, taking into account the unique culture of each service. In cases where it is reasonable for a transfer for administration of voluntary assisted dying, then this is a resource and process issue. The State should provide access to dedicated facilities to undertake administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance.”

But Compton, a prominent seniors advocate and the longest-serving Elder for Life in the Uniting Church, has accused religious leaders of doing their followers a grave disservice.

Compton, 89, has an Order of Australia and was this year made an Officer of Australia for his public policy work. He has also championed Labor’s bid to introduce VAD laws in Queensland and is “hugely concerned” that his church and others might stand in the way of aged care residents seeking dignity in death at home.

“This is an illegal and arrogant decision by those churches,” Compton told the committee.

“Wherever a person lives, it is their home, and they alone can decide what happens in their own home and no church is entitled to dictate what they will do. It is arrogant oppression. I strongly recommend that a clause be added to the VAD legislation to have heavy financial fines payable by churches and their office bearers when they infringe the rights of their residents in this way.”

Compton told the committee he totally opposed the stance taken by his church on VAD.

“It is neither legal nor Christian and in total conflict with the views of 80 per cent of the members of the church,” he said.

The committee will report to parliament, where a vote is expected in September. If the bill is passed, people would be able to access VAD from January 2023.

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