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Statement on the End of Life Choice Referendum
On October 17, the people of Aotearoa New Zealand are going to make a choice on two referendums: The Cannabis Legislation and Control referendum and the End of Life Choice referendum. It is our moral imperative to engage in informed participation in our country’s collective ethical discernment, and hence this statement. This is not a prescriptive statement telling people what to choose. some points for serious consideration as people come to make their choice.
Christian ethical discernment and action, in the context of morally ambiguous issues, is a responsibility that we ought to make as individuals and faith communities. Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, the Wesleyan quadrilateral, inform us in this discernment process. Further as members of Te Haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa with our commitment to the bicultural journey, we recognize the importance of Māori wisdom and tikanga in our ethical responses.
Life is a gift from God. As mortal beings, we need to respect both birth and death, the life processes that God has created. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). Hence death is an inevitable reality in our life. However, technological advancements in health and medical sciences make it possible to radically transform the norms of natural death and to prolong the life of a terminally ill person. Though they may not promise complete recovery, they can sustain life with the help of life support equipment. The ethical questions on the quality and worth of such prolonged life and the moral ambiguity involved in active euthanasia is the context in which the referendum on people’s right to choose their treatment preference during end-of-life care become crucial and critical. Following are some of the ethical questions that we need to grapple with in this process:
- Are traditional religious and moral arguments promoting the prolonging of life compatible with the best interests of a terminally ill patient with conditions of pain and distress?
- How do we protect dying persons from the legal and moral pressure of the Act to end their lives?
- Is assisted dying free from abuse and exploitation?
- Is there a moral or religious obligation to accept aggressive medical interventions when they impose undue burdens on the patients and their families?
- Does the right to life include the right to a peaceful and dignified death as well?
- Is the Act an excuse for the state to withdraw from Hospice and palliative care?
- What are the implications of the Act on prevailing health care disparities and deprivation of access to basic health needs based on demographics and income inequality?
- Is seeking death deliberately to relieve suffering theologically justifiable?
- Can we justify assisted dying as an act of compassion, love, and responsible care?
While we recognize the primacy of the Scripture in our ethical discernment, it is important to state that the Bible does not give a ‘clear’ answer to the question of assisted dying. Indeed, we must be wary of claims that state a ‘definitive biblical’ position on this complex issue. Simply quoting pithy Bible verses taken out of context (proof-texting) is a dangerous practice where the Bible becomes a weapon used to prove a point and shut down discussion. This use of the Bible is an abuse of the Bible.
This does not mean, however, that the Bible should not contribute to this difficult discussion. It absolutely should. As Christians, we seek guidance and counsel from our sacred texts. Below are a couple of important tools for engaging with the biblical text; keys that can help unlock insights as we wrestle with this issue and seek to discern an appropriate response. As Christians, we are called to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength (Mk 12:28-34; Matt 22:35-40; Lk 10:27). In living out this call, we are required to engage with critical issues arising in our times with deep compassion, prayerful contemplation, rigorous intellectual analysis, and a strong commitment to justice. This is also true for our reading of scripture. Compassion, contemplation, critical thinking, and justice are the keys to interpreting biblical texts as they relate to contemporary contextual questions (in this case, assisted dying). In the Bible, God’s command for justice and love is particularly (or preferentially) focused towards those on the margins, those who are vulnerable, those who are ‘the least’ in society. And as we read the Bible mindful of the imperatives of justice and love for those who occupy these liminal spaces, so we are attentive to these same imperatives as they relate to those on the periphery of our health-care system.
In our ethical discernment, we acknowledge and respect Māori wisdoms of life and death that express uniquely Māori worldviews through tikanga. We accept that tikanga is diverse within hapu and whanau, and therefore there are varied approaches to euthanasia or physician-assisted death. Māori draw from past histories and experiences and recall the traditions of ngā tupuna, including the wharemate (provision for assisted death). We affirm those traditions, and equally, respect those hapu that did not practice such traditions.
As a community of faith, we ask grace and kindness as we engage in a time of discernment. We understand that the capacity to make the choice to end a life is a matter of personal and collective mana, enabling people to exercise the freedom of autonomous decision-making. We understand that it can also be an expression of one’s own tino rangatiratanga, empowering a sense of self-determination for a dignified death. We encourage the sharing of Māori theologies to further inform our faith communities.
We believe that Māori consultation is imperative in the development of the legislation and its potential implementation. We recognise that there are significant disparities and inequalities for Māori within the existing healthcare systems that need to be addressed. We acknowledge the potential risks for further marginalisation of Māori through systemic and institutional racism and seek action from government agencies and policymakers with the power to make a change. We challenge the government to develop, in consultation with Māori health organisations, professionals, mātauranga Māori and rongoā practitioners a clear, definitive and culturally-responsive preventive healthcare system that will work towards reducing the inequities in health and well-being for Māori.
To sum up, in the same way, that there is no one single ‘biblical’ answer or Māori response to the question of assisted dying, so there is no one ‘Christian’ response, either. But as Christians, we are called to search our scriptures, tradition, experience, and tikanga prayerfully, critically, and in pursuit of compassionate justice, love, and healing, allowing these insights to shape our response as we come to cast our vote.
Upcoming Important Dates:
Block 19: TS511 Moana Faces of Christ | Aug 24-28 (George Zachariah)
This course aims to wrestle with the question “who do you say that I am” in the contemporary Oceanic context. The course will study the history of the development of the doctrine of Christ and contextual articulations of Christology from different parts of the world. However, the focus of the course is to understand the Christological re-imaginations from Oceania to discern the Moana faces of Christ.
Mid-semester Break | Aug 31 – Sep 13
Block 20: MS620 Te Kete Tuauri | Sep 14-18 (Keita)
Tohunga: traditional and contemporary
This paper examines the leadership role of Tohunga in traditional Māori society and explores the implications for modern-day forms of Tohungatanga (Tohungaism). This paper will also consider the place of spirituality, ritual and tīkanga within the practice of a Tohunga. Students will study the effects of the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 on healing practices and the retention of mātauranga Māori. The paper investigates the knowledge and work of contemporary practitioners including Tohunga Tā Moko, Whakairo, Rongoa and the potential for Tohunga in digitised media.
Block 21: RS711 Christianity in Aotearoa | Sep 21-25 (Jione)
This course critically investigates the development of the ecumenical movement and its (ir)relevance for Aotearoa. What does the ecumenical values of oikoumene and koinonia mean to global and local churches today? What, or in what, is the future of the ecumenical movement in Aotearoa? Students will explore questions such as these and visit local churches that host and facilitate ecumenical projects.
Block 22: RS512 Abrahamic Faiths | Sep 28 - Oct 2 (Jione)
This course critically studies the relations and fractures between the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—in their heritage as well as in their views about justice, peace and ecological welfare. How might these faith traditions collaborate toward sustaining life with peace and justice?
Block 23: TS620 Restorying Christianity II | Oct 12-16 (Gladson)
This course will run in two semesters (TS520 and TS620). TS520 retells the story of Christianity from the first century CE to the Reformation era, and pays close attention the development of the Christian tradition, key theological debates, schisms, and issues that shattered the unity of the movement.
TS620 begins from the Reformation period to the present, and pays close attention the story of Christianity in Oceania and Aotearoa. Contemporary challenges that confront Christian churches, and the emergence of new groups will be given due examination and critical scrutiny. This story of Christianity will be shared alongside its historical counterpart, colonisation.
Block 24: BS712 Wisdom & Psalms | Oct 19-23 (Nāsili)
This course will explore various theories of the origin and function of psalms and wisdom literature in ancient Israelite communities. It will provide an overview of the background issues in the interpretation of these texts, including questions of date, authorship, literary form, social context, and their relationship to other biblical and extra-canonical literature. The course will also analyse psalms and wisdom texts as works of literature and exegetically assess the relevance of these texts for contemporary communities.