On 29 November 2017, Victoria became the first Australian state to pass legislation allowing voluntary assisted dying. The law gives anyone suffering a terminal illness, with less than six months to live, the right to end their life. “From 19 June 2019, Victorians at the end of life who are suffering and who meet strict eligibility criteria will be able to request access to voluntary assisted dying. The law allows for an 18-month implementation period to give health services time to plan and prepare for voluntary assisted dying.” For more information, check out the Victorian State Government website.

I concede that this is a highly emotional and divisive topic and I acknowledge every person’s right to their opinion for their reasons.

Christie and I spoke a while ago with an MP who was part of the cross-party committee and ministerial advisory panel. This group visited countries and states that have already introduced similar legislation; they talked to numerous people who hold varying views for various reasons. The exhaustive report, which contains 66 recommendations, is considered to be among the most conservative legislation of its type in the world. [1] The committee said any request to die must come from a terminally ill, mentally competent patient over the age of 18 in the final weeks or months of their life, and must be approved by a primary doctor/ specialist and an independent secondary doctor.

The Bill (and hence this blog) has to do with voluntary assisted dying (VAD) rather than euthanasia or assisted suicide. VAD refers to people who are already dying and where the patient takes the medication prescribed. Euthanasia is usually where the doctor administers the medicine, whilst assisted suicide includes people who are not terminally ill, but who are being helped to commit suicide. It’s vital that these definitions are understood.

I take my calling as a pastor very seriously, and my pastoral gift causes me to see and engage with people and not just issues. I am not a blogger who is removed from people and their pain; I am a pastor who happens to write a weekly blog as part of my ministry. I often receive criticism from those who think I should be black and white about specific issues, but what individuals deal with in daily life concerns me more than statistics, disputes, questions and cherry-picked Bible verses. And so, when it comes to VAD, I believe it’s important to consider the following pastoral concerns that affect precious people and their loved ones in the final weeks or months of life with a terminal illness:

  • While palliative care in Australia is amongst the best in the world, it is not available to everyone. A while ago I listened to a radio interview with an oncologist and she said the resources of finance, people and equipment for palliative care are insufficient and not always available within the timeframe they’re needed. In other words, just because palliative care is requested doesn’t mean the patient will receive it when they need it. Obviously more resources need to be made available, and this is a significant recommendation of the VAD report.
  • Not every condition responds to palliative care, and so some terminally ill people opt for suicide to spare themselves and their families the pain (or non-pain symptoms) that will surround their death. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that three Australians over the age of 75 take their lives each week, usually because of terminal illness.[2]  Of course, there are also people younger than 75 who suicide because of a terminal condition.
  • Voluntary assisted dying can be a viewed by the terminally ill as a safety net in case it’s needed. In 2014 Christie and I had the privilege of interviewing Peter Short on The Exchange TV program.[3]  Peter was terminally ill with oesophageal cancer and used his final months to advocate for VAD. A couple of years ago, we attended the launch of the documentary Fade to Black that details Peter’s last months.[4]  Peter was given a dose of Nembutal in case his symptoms became too much to bear but, in the end, he found palliative care sufficient and he passed away peacefully during December 2014. I’ve heard many people talk about VAD as a safety net that gives them peace just knowing they have a way to end intolerable suffering should it occur. Very few end up taking it. As Andrew Denton says, “it’s not about someone choosing to end their life because they want to end their life, it’s about someone who is already dying choosing to end their suffering.”
  • It’s crucial that we become better at having deep and meaningful conversations about death and dying, something I find many people are uncomfortable with, but appreciate when they happen. Some months ago, I interviewed Graham Crossan[5], a member of Bayside Church, who has Motor Neurone Disease. We chatted about lots of things including living with a terminal illness, death and dying. Many people in our church told me how grateful they were for the honest discussion.

Whatever your opinion is of voluntary assisted dying, it’s important to think carefully about it as it affects real people at what for many will be the most challenging time for them, their friends and family.




[3] http://www.theexchangetv.com.au/right-die/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pv0zqWowto

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxasDElBbMs



Assisted dying legislation in Victoria will be debated next week when Parliament returns.  No doubt there will be some robust discussion over the next few weeks until a conscience vote by the end of the year is reached.

I will write a blog on the Assisted Dying Bill next week, but the focus of this blog is The Right to Try rather than the right to die.  In the USA some states have laws that allow terminally ill patients to TRY experimental treatments (medication, procedures and other possible cures) that are unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  These treatments have passed basic safety testing but are not freely available.

I believe in the right to try for two reasons.  Firstly, if I were dying from a terminal illness, I would want to be given every possible opportunity to beat it – not because I’m scared to die but because I have so much for which to live.  As a husband and father, I want to be around for my family for a long time to come.  One of my long-term prayers and goals has been to grow old with Christie.  So far so good!  I also have a wonderful relationship with our three daughters.  I love being “there” for them and want to be there for many more years.  I want to walk them down the aisle one day, should they choose to marry.  I want to meet my sons-in-law and my grandkids.  I want to spoil them rotten (the grandkids that is) and be a hip old pop.  I still have so many dad jokes up my sleeve too.

I also believe that God has so much more for me to accomplish.  I love leading our amazing community that is Bayside Church and I’d like to stay around longer to see what God has in store for us.  I have books to write, sermons to teach, people to love, disciples to make, places to visit and battles to win.  Longevity runs in my family (my gran was 101 and my great gran 103), and I hope I’ve picked up that gene or whatever it is.  Should I however succumb to a terminal illness I’d want to have the right to try anything that would help me beat it and stick around longer.

Lest you should think my motivation was only selfish, my second reason for believing in the right to try is to engage in experiments that could benefit others.  Yes, I would put my hand up and volunteer to be a human guinea pig.  Even if the treatment were unsuccessful for me, I’d hope that those behind the trial would gain useful information that would help other people and save their lives.

There are some who are against the right to try legislation because they say it opens people to elevated risk.  What could be riskier than having a terminal illness?  Of course, any right to try legislation would need to provide drug companies some legal protection if a treatment resulted in harm, but let’s not use that as an excuse to deprive people of a possible cure and an extension to their quality of life.

For a human face to this issue read Deborah Sims’ recent article in the Herald Sun.




Last week, I listened to an interesting discussion on euthanasia on a Melbourne radio station. The host interviewed a Christian minister who, of course, was anti-euthanasia. And so I decided to make this subject a discussion point on social media. Here’s what I wrote:

“Once again the Church speaks out against. While I acknowledge that this is a complex and emotive issue, I’m wondering when the church will learn to engage on ethical issues in a way that expresses God’s love and care for people. Right now in Victoria one person a week, on average, takes their life rather than face an agonising death. The Church’s “against” stand on this and other ethical issues does not engage people with where they find themselves and what they face. Christians need to express God’s compassion for people rather than make black and white statements from a distance. Have you sat with someone as they’ve died in agony? Have you walked with a person with a terminal illness? Have you comforted family and friends who are devastated from helplessly watching their loved one suffer? We need to leave our ivory towers and do life with people who God loves and for whom Jesus gave His life. That sort of Christianity attracts people. The other sort repels.”

As always I invited discussion and what followed was a generally respectful dialogue. But one person wrote, “I am suprised [sic] to hear this from u Rob, I have had many of my family and friends that I had to sit by and watch [sic] them suffer, and thankful for any comfort they could get, but i also know the God numbered our days and its not up to us to end them when we feel like it!” I responded, “It’s a discussion. Nothing to be surprised about. These things need to be talked about in a respectful and compassionate way.”

Christian people should not shy away from the tough debates and neither should we automatically be “against” everything – although that sadly seems to be the expectation from many in the church these days. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t hold strong views but we need to learn to engage with others and listen to why their opinion differs from ours. Along the way maybe we’ll learn something rather than being self-righteously opinionated.

The euthanasia debate has surfaced again recently because of a 350 page report handed down to the Victorian State Parliament. The report recommends that euthanasia only be made legal for terminally ill patients over the age of 18, enduring pain and suffering in the last weeks or months of their natural life.  A number of other safeguards would also be put in place if legislation were eventually passed. This process is likely to take about two years and there’s no guarantee that current laws will be changed.

Last year Christie and I filmed an episode of our TV program The Exchange on the euthanasia debate called The Right to Die.  Originally we were to have two guests both of whom had terminal illnesses: Peter Short and Nicholas Tonti-Filippini. Unfortunately Nicholas had to withdraw from the program at the last minute, as he was too ill. He passed away a few days later. In his place Margaret Tighe, the president of the Right to Life Australia, agreed to take part in the discussion.

Nicholas Tonti-Filippini had battled a chronic autoimmune disease from the age of 20. He lived until the age of 56. Professor Tonti-Filippini was staunch in his opposition to voluntary euthanasia. He said, “Euthanasia would be a disaster for people like me. I’m dependent on dialysis … I’m well advanced with a terminal condition. If euthanasia was allowed it would put pressure on people in my situation to take that option. So anybody who was terminally ill – anybody who was suffering – they would be under a kind of pressure because the doctors would have to tell them that this was an option, so it would undermine the whole relationship between them and their doctor.  At the moment, the doctors and nurses I see encourage me to keep going with the dialysis.  But if they happen to turn around and say that at this stage of your life you could opt for euthanasia, it would completely undermine the relationship.” (The Age)

Peter Short was an amazing man and we enjoyed good conversation both on and off set. Peter had successfully battled oesophageal cancer in his early 50s but, on 28 January 2014, his 57th birthday, he was told it had returned – terminally. Peter campaigned for euthanasia but in the end he opted for palliative care. He died on 29 December, 2014.


There are many “fors” and “againsts” in the euthanasia debate and I encourage you to read widely on the subject if you’re interested in knowing more. I guess a great question for all of us to ask is whether ethics are issues or people? If ethics are just issues then we are free to make black and white statements such as, “I’m against euthanasia.” But if ethics go way beyond issues and actually affect people – which they do – then we need to engage with the people who are affected, get to know them and listen to their stories. When we do this we will find that there are many shades of grey and, more importantly, our hearts will be filled with empathy, compassion and love for those who are suffering – and that sounds very much like Jesus to me.