Scottish theologian Professor John Swinton, in Australia consulting for the HammondCare health and aged care group, has urged Christians to resist the push for the introduction of assisted suicide. Professor Swinton is Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen. His recent book, Dementia: Living in the memories of God, won him the Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing. “Why is it that people say euthanasia is okay in the context of dementia?” he asks. “It has to do with the sense that you somehow are not the person you used to be and so, therefore, your life isn’t worth living. My experience of people with dementia, and also working with carers who work alongside people with dementia, is that this is simply not the case.” He says it is vital for sufferers to have good relationships, a good sense of spirituality, a sense of security and trust.
“If somebody is in a good environment they can live very well with dementia. There is some sadness and brokenness, but there is also positivity and hope.” Professor Swinton says one issue raised by euthanasia proponents is “projection”. “You encounter someone who has a disability such as paraplegia, and you think, ‘Wouldn’t it be awful if I had paraplegia?’ You imagine yourself moving from your current situation into their situation, which means it’s a story of loss and brokenness. Whereas if you speak to people with paraplegia you may get stories of loss and brokenness, but you’ll also get stories of relationship and possibilities in which they can live well within your community. “With euthanasia, quite a lot of people use their imagination and project onto others what they think it would be like to have this particular experience and use that as a rationale for a kind of ethical argument for euthanasia.”
“If you are living through something the experience is often very different, assuming that you have good care and a solid community around you.” Media personality Andrew Denton used his father’s battle with heart disease to say the law should allow assisted suicide. Professor Swinton says we should learn from the experiences of countries where assisted suicide has been introduced. “They are starting to see the downside, with something like dementia, because as the legislation often runs, as soon as you have a diagnosis of dementia you can ask to be euthanised,” he says. “This means people end up being euthanised when actually they seem to be quite together. That’s very traumatic not only for families but also for doctors and medical staff who have to actually engage in these practices.”
Professor Swinton says there should be a clear Christian voice in the debate. “It is a very important because of the Christian perspective on what a human being is, what human life is and what human value is, is fundamentally important to the conversation. Whether we ‘win’ or whether we ‘lose’ is not the point. The key thing is that we must have a voice in the conversation and alternatives need to be clearly and fairly laid out. “One of my concerns about the conversation around euthanasia is that it kind of masquerades as an ethical discussion but actually it is like a clash of worlds. A Christian perspective says human life is inherently valuable because God places value on it. Society tends to think the only thing that is valuable is choice, to live a life where you have choice, freedom and autonomy. “So it’s not simply a matter of right and wrong. It is actually two different ways of looking at the world.”
REV NILE SAYS THERE IS FALLING SUPPORT FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
In a recent speech (which we have edited) to the NSW Parliament Rev Fred Nile said: “I draw the attention of the House to a survey recently conducted by Marriage Alliance dealing with same-sex marriage. The alliance is a coalition of 40 or 50 church-related organisations and other family focused groups. The alliance commissioned a poll of 2,500 people conducted by Sexton Market Research. The survey revealed that only 33% of Australians strongly support same-sex marriage, 25% were undecided, whilst 20% strongly oppose it, and 3% somewhat oppose it. By digging deeper in focus groups, the researchers found that support declined significantly, especially among “soft” supporters, when same-sex marriage was linked to consequences such as sex education and gender politics, with 81% afraid of losing terms like “mum” and “dad”, and 75% worried about unisex toilets.
In addition, 81% of participants were concerned about the gender of babies being removed from birth certificates and about the words “mum” and “dad” being replaced by “parent one” and “parent two”. Further, 69% were concerned that children were being taught in school that gender is flexible and that they can choose whether they are male or female. When asked about their attitude to restrictions on freedom of speech in the workplace, 67% of participants who strongly believe in traditional marriage were concerned. Also most soft supporters of same-sex marriage said they too were concerned about the loss of freedom of speech. In response to being asked whether parents should have a right to yes or no to any sexual content being taught beyond their family beliefs, 66% of those who somewhat support same-sex marriage said that they agreed compared with 49% of strong supporters.
Of those who are undecided about same-sex marriage, 65% agreed that parents should have a veto over what their children are taught compared to 84% of those who strongly opposed same-sex marriage. On the question of replacing male and female public toilets and school toilets with unisex toilets, 80% of soft supporters of same-sex marriage were concerned about the idea, as were 60% of strong supporters. Based on the poll data, Marriage Alliance believes that over time support for same-sex marriage has eroded. The same-sex marriage lobby claims that 75% of people in Australia support same-sex marriage, but that is not supported by this latest survey. Marriage Alliance states that the controversy around Safe Schools programs has helped its campaign as a result of revelations of harassment of Christians by the militant arm of the same-sex marriage lobby.
Interestingly, the survey found that key ethnic communities are overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage, including 75% of the Muslim community and 65% of the Hindu community. Support plummeted for same-sex marriage when it was linked to a social change agenda, including safe schools and when freedom of speech and religion are threatened. The irony, therefore, is that the people in favour of same sex marriage, I believe, are aware of these figures, and that is why they have done all they can to prevent the plebiscite proceeding, because they believe that they would lose”.
VICTORIAN PRE-SCHOOLS FOCUS ON NON-GENDERED PLAY TO STOP FAMILY VIOLENCE
Early childhood teachers will be encouraged to identify toys and books that reinforce gender stereotypes and avoid gender specific language under a Victorian government plan to tackle family violence through preschools. Teachers will also be asked to reflect on their own “conscious and unconscious biases”, “unpack their understanding of gender and gender identity”and avoid using terms such as “good morning princess” or “boys don’t cry”. Fresh details of the respectful relationships training the government plans to provide to 4000 preschool teachers have emerged, with the public release of a professional learning kit that was used in a trial late last year. The Victorian Department of Education is seeking a provider to further develop and deliver training to boost the capacity of early childhood educators to implement respectful relationships into their programs.
The $3.4 million initiative is part of the Victorian Labor government’s $21.8m Respectful Relationships education package for schools, inspired by the Royal Commission into Family Violence. It is set to be rolled out to schools over the next two years. Challenging gender stereotypes is the centrepiece of the preschool program. “Do you critically reflect on or intentionally observe gendered play?” trainers were instructed to ask participants. “Can you or have you worked with children to develop different storylines in their play? Have you intervened to change gendered play?” According to the training kit, evidence suggested that strict adherence to gender stereotypes contributed to gender-based and family violence, of which most victims were women. “As rigid attitudes toward gender are shifted through respectful relationships education, evidence suggests that family violence will reduce,” it said.
Critics of the program have queried its preoccupation with masculinity and gender stereotypes, particularly when applied to children as young as three. As the federal government’s own guidelines on infant and childhood developmental milestones point out, a typical three-year-old can label their own gender and demonstrate knowledge of gender-role stereotypes. By four or five, a child may show a stronger preference for same-sex playmates, may reinforce gender-role norms with peers and may show some aggression with peers. All behaviours are considered developmentally normal. Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jennifer Buckingham described the program as “objectionable”. “Firstly, no evidence is provided to show that gender norms are the key contributor to domestic violence and that this can be fixed by encouraging kids to play with gender neutral toys,” she said.
“Secondly, it is pretty patronising to preschool teachers to think they have to be trained out of having unconscious gender biases.” Dr Buckingham said research had shown that behavioural issues in pre-schoolers, such as aggression, were often the result of poor oral language skills. Opposition spokeswoman for early childhood Georgie Crozier said there was “something truly Orwellian in auditing children’s toys and games in kindergartens”. Early Childhood Minister Jenny Mikakos said the program would give teachers the tools to treat children equally, and to help them build healthy friendships.