Report to the CWLA Inc. National Conference 2007


‘Faith, Love and Trust’

Madam President, Rev Fathers, Executive and members of Catholic Women’s League. It is my privilege and pleasure to present to you the report on the activities of the Bioethics Working Party Convenor and I thank you for the opportunity.

When I accepted this position for 2006-2007 I knew that the area of Bioethics was one of concern, contention and commitment. I was also aware that the moral concerns we face around ‘dignity of life’ issues were becoming disturbing and unacceptable to some who come from varying Christian and Catholic backgrounds. However, I guess I was not quite prepared for the intensity and accelerating nature of the items that need to be addressed!


I have not been able to produce a newsletter as often as I had hoped but continue to maintain an extensive data base so that information is available as it is needed. In order to compile these resources I access such internet sites as:-

National and State Right to Life Associations  
Pro-Family and Pro-Marriage Organisations
Specific Bioethics Organisations
Bioethical Journals
Clinical Unit in Ethics and Health Law
The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator
National Health and Medical Research Council                     

The web sites associated with the Vatican are invaluable in ensuring that information is consistent with church teaching – even if sometimes this may seem harsh to some of you. Of course Aileen is always a valuable source of information as I know she searches the internet regularly to pass on relevant topics to us. It is my expectation that the available information I maintain is current and appropriate.           


Who forgot to tell me about ‘Parliament’, various Senators and members of State and Federal, who could be considered ‘unchristian’ in some of their ideas? Well anyway I have learnt a lot about writing submissions in order to present our views on a number of issues affecting the ‘dignity of life’. To date I have supplied five submissions. (see Submissions 2006-2007 in this book)

Since the (Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006) was passed in Federal Parliament, the states of New South Wales and Victoria announced legislation to overturn the previous ban on the cloning of embryonic stem cells for medical research. The Adelaide Advertiser reported in March that the SA legislation is being drafted with the support of SA Health minister John Hill to introduce a bill to legalise "therapeutic" cloning.
Since the submission re Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans 1999 (the National Statement (2) and as a result of that enquiry, a document, National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, has been released. This document is described as ‘A User Guide’ and addresses many ethical issues.


An enquiry was conducted into issues arising from the subject of “Post-Coma Unresponsiveness” sometimes referred to as a 'persistent vegetative state'. The Post-Coma Unresponsiveness Working Party developed an issues paper which identified much that is involved in the care of people in post-coma unresponsiveness. The paper was circulated amongst a comprehensive range of stakeholders, in a targeted consultation process. The Working Party invited submissions widely from individuals or organisations. They have now released 2 discussion documents and are asking for ‘submissions!! By the time you read this I will have made another submission. The documents are, Ethical Guidelines for the Care of People in Post-Coma Unresponsiveness (Vegetative State) or a Minimally Responsive State and; Post-Coma Unresponsiveness (Vegetative State) or a Minimally Responsive State:  A guide for families and carers of people with profound brain damage.

 In the meantime there are a number of recently released documents you can read about this topic.

The new document from The Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) is titled, Post-Coma Unresponsiveness: A Clinical Framework for Diagnosis - Longer term management, contains clinical practice guidelines for communicating prognosis and end-of-life issues with adults in the advanced stages of a life-limiting illness, and their caregivers. A media release said, "Decisions about the treatment of highly dependent patients (including decisions about withholding or withdrawing treatment and the continuing provision of artificial nutrition and hydration) should be informed both by what, if anything, is known about their wishes and by a broad consideration of their best interests, and should reflect the best contemporary standards of care for people who are highly dependent. In all instances the question is never whether the patient's life is worthwhile, but whether a treatment is worthwhile. (My emphasis)

The Catholic Church gives us advice about such issues through Catholic Health Australia (CHA) who have developed 2 documents addressing End of Life Issues. One is called "End of Life Issues" and the other an older document you may have read before called "Briefing Note on the Obligation to provide Nutrition and Hydration".


Australian health practitioners now have new guidelines to help them discuss end-of-life issues with palliative care patients and their families, Clinical practice guidelines for communicating prognosis and end-of-life issues with adults in the advanced stages of a life-limiting illness, and their caregivers” that was recently launched in Canberra. “Terminal prognosis and end-of-life issues are difficult topics for patients, health professionals and their families,” Senator Mason said. “But discussion is essential in order to make plans for remaining life and to prepare for death. “Of course, any such discussions must take into account the emotions and concerns of all parties as well as the facts".

The NHMRC and the Department of Health and Ageing are currently cooperating on a national Palliative Care Research Program to improve the quality of palliative care. The program commenced in 2000 and will continue to 2010.

CHA in association with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have recently made available, “A guide for people considering their future health care”. This document addresses what some people call ‘a living will’. There is an example of a format that Catholics, or anyone for that matter, can use to make their wishes known. 

The Commonwealth Government has released a report on ethical issues arising from consideration of health and medical research involving humans by Human Research Ethics Committees to which we contributed. The quality of Australia’s health and medical research effort is recognised worldwide. The public interest is well served by Human Research Ethics Committees which continue to play a key role in ensuring that such research meets the highest ethical standards.


Abortion continues to be a serious concern to all of us, with Victoria considering a dramatic change to its abortion laws. A recently introduced Private Member’s Bill aims to allow for decriminalization of abortion in that State. "The proposed law change has come about because one MLC, Candy Broad, feels that doctors and women are afraid of prosecution if the Crimes Act continues to impose penalties for unlawful abortions".
I understand that Victoria’s politicians will be given a conscience vote on this Bill, probably in early August.

Amnesty International has come in for some bad press recently as the organisation made the announcement of a new policy that condemns as a human-rights violator any country that does not allow broad access to abortion or punishes abortion providers. Amnesty International also calls for abortion to be decriminalised globally. The human rights organisation in reality planned to change the long-held “neutral” policy that states: "Amnesty International takes no position on whether or not women have a right to choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies; there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law.”

Many Catholics support Amnesty branches here in Australia, where the local branch was unable to reach a formal position on the change. Actually according to my information Amnesty’s new policy does stop short of backing aborting as a "fundamental right" for women because, that approach was not supported by international human rights laws. We need to remain aware of what organisations to which we belong or support are proposing with regard to life issues


March saw the 10th anniversary of the overturning of the Northern Territory's voluntary euthanasia law. Whilst many of us applauded that decision, euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke, with some elderly and seriously ill voluntary euthanasia supporters, made a bus trip to Darwin to protest against the overturning of that law.

Dr Philip Nitschke, has been interviewed on a number of radio and television programmes; he has recognised that it would be some time before any other state in Australia would introduce such a law and has formed a new organisation, VERF (Voluntary Euthanasia Research Foundation, now called Exit) to explore ways of do-it-yourself self-deliverance. He has also written a book, "The Peaceful Pill Handbook" that due to the hard work of RTL NSW has been banned in Australia. You would be aware that Philip Nitschke is quite determined to see euthanasia legalized in Australia and that he has decided to run for the Federal seat of Menzies against Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews.

We know that ’Euthanasia’ means a good death but the term has been ‘hijacked’ by voluntary euthanasia groups and supporters, so that the word now has a ‘different’ and negative connotation


Despite our best efforts and prayers the creation of human embryos for research and experimentation purposes is going ahead. Archbishop Denis Hart said. "There are issues of enormous importance at stake here.”To allow human embryos to be deliberately created and then destroyed for scientific research is always unethical." Cardinal Pell protested at the way the proposal was being rushed through Parliament in the space of only a week. His statement said that, the human embryo, "has intrinsic human dignity and
should be afforded that most basic of human rights -- the right to live, to grow, to prosper."

The Catholic Life Office in Sydney has developed a helpful pamphlet called, The human embryo; someone
Or something? I know that Life Offices in other States have similar and that they share resources.

Although it is really cold comfort, this issue is currently being discussed and debated worldwide. It is sad to note that some people are desperate for cures and have invested a lot of faith in the outcomes of EST research regardless of the poor results so far. In July an article in Australian Doctor, 6/7/07, p19 said, “Stem cell researchers have warned patients against travelling to countries such as China and India in search of untested treatments for spinal injuries and other conditions.”No reputable scientist thinks stem cell treatment is ready for prime time in humans. Some embryonic stem cells had been shown to form cancers in animal experiments and could have a similar effect on humans”
Ethical stem-cell research (adult stem cells) is showing much more promise in the development of treatments for specific diseases. Stem cells derived from cord blood have produced numerous cures without making any of the ethical violations intrinsic to human embryonic stem-cell research.
The booklet about the Dangers of Prenatal Testing developed by Dr Deidre Little from NSW has caused a lot of interest.  In my capacity as a member of the Australian Catholic Life Council, advising the Bishop’s Council for Pastoral Life. I presented this document and asked for advice about a way forward. CWLA was congratulated for its support of this document and currently there are discussions about the best way to present the document with the option of also having it on the website. At this stage it looks like it may end up as a companion document to two others being developed. More about that later.


I have received support from many people throughout the last 2 years, the Executive, the State Bioethics Convenors, interested members who keep me informed about issues that I may have missed, my own Diocese, Aileen, to each of these people and any I may have missed I say a heartfelt ‘Thank You’.
















































































































God bless
Mrs Margo Nancarrow
National Convenor