Civil law challenged by personal beliefs

Were a doctor or surgeon to believe that, in the light of his knowledge and skills, his patient should receive the treatment or surgery he considers appropriate, could the patient’s wishes be ignored, especially if the latter is unconscious?

In the event that the patient had previously provided the hospital with an Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD), a legally-binding document signed in sound mind, and had also reminded the relevant medicos of the existence of such a document (as I have each time I was listed for surgery), could the surgeon ignore my right to decide how I am to be treated?

My AHCD says that any procedure requires my consent; and that I am not to be resuscitated if unconscious. That is, to allow nature to take its course.

The issues raised here are:
Who owns the body and mind of the patient?
What of his human rights, since his legal rights may be abrogated?
• What consideration should be given by the medicos to the patient’s quality of life post-treatment?
• What logic underwrites this medico stance to god-like status?
• Should life be prolonged at any cost? Why?

How, in an officially-secular democratic nation, could a medico’s beliefs over-ride the legal rights of a fellow-human? We do need the protection of the law from arbitrary decisions by others.

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The unwarranted exercise of power in religion

Acceptance of a variety of religions in our daily life without demur; realising that religious belief is a private affair; knowing that diversity in the form of prayer and the path taken to seek union with the Divine is a core feature of humanity; and accepting that the services provided by priests seeking to guide followers to God is of great value; all these were taught to me by my Hindu family.

We lived in a British colonial territory, with a variety of ethnic communities and their religious commitments. Culturally, there was mutual acceptance. My family’s close friends included Christians of 3 sects.

Hindu priests facilitated our reaching to God. They did not control our lives. It was therefore a significant cultural shock for me to find, from the late 1940s on, in Christian Australia, not only a bitter sectarian divide, but also control of Roman Catholics by their priests. The latter, compared to Hindu priests, lived rather well; but also preached prejudice – through the guise of Catholics being always facing discrimination.

I was offended by those priests and laymen who asked me to join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation.’ When I asked my first priest-interlocutor why I, a devout believer in God, needed his Christian salvation, he was silent – then moved away silently. An honest priest! Yet, I have been shouted at by some laymen for not accepting the primacy of the Pope.

Why does a religious organisation, or one of its operational arms, need to be authoritarian, to exercise control over, not only the minds, but also the behaviour of its followers? Such behaviour includes overt discrimination of the kind I experienced in the late 1980s (as recently as that). That was because I did not belong to ‘the faith.’ That was made clear. I took early retirement as a result.

To claim that your beliefs (and theological dogma) are superior to those of others is, to me, tolerable. But does your Earthly ego then require you to denigrate competing faiths? Or, to dominate official policies to favour your theology? Or, worse still, for your followers to discriminate against those of other faiths?

It is not, however, the religion which is at fault in inflicting assumed authority with asserted power over believers; and in seeking to impose sectoral theology-derived social values over the policies of the totality of the nation. It is the behaviour of quite ordinary men, claiming extraordinary power, blinded by their collective egos. Do they need to be reminded that we co-created humans are equal, not only under the law, but also in the eyes of God?

Time to divest authority and power from the practice of guiding fellow humans, while on Earth, to the Divine?

Faulty Vatican logic

The Roman Catholic Church, the largest religious organisation in the world, can be, has been, and is, an influence for good. In the 1980s, during the reign of the Polish Pope, Australia was persuaded to accept, as humanitarian entrants, Poles living within the nation. Elsewhere, those qualifying for this category had to be outside their country of nationality; and to have a genuine fear of discrimination by the authorities. In the 1990s, I met one of these Poles, and he was thankful for his entry into Australia.

During the 1960s and 1970s, through both my work and my extended (and in-depth) voluntary contribution to my trade union, I acquired quite a number of ‘micks’ (Irish Catholics) as my drinking mates. These included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens. The Catholic-controlled union awarded me a Meritorious Service Award in the early 1980s.

All the above is to establish that, as a metaphysical Hindu, I accept all the major religions as equal in their potential. Their adherents all pray to the same God, do they not? (However, could I expect reciprocity of tolerance?)

Moving on: I can understand the Vatican denying contraception and other practices related to the ‘netherlands’ of women. I can also understand the Vatican’s desire to increase its followers through these restrictive practices.

However, through imposing, via government policies, these edicts on contraception, abortion, and voluntary euthanasia over the whole population (especially when the Roman Catholics are a small proportion of the total population), the so-called ‘prods & masons’ will also increase in number. Any difference will reflect the number of children produced per family. In the 1960s and 1970s I was told by my Catholic colleagues that Catholic priests demanded (as was then their reported wont) that each Catholic family produce a minimum of 4 offspring.

There is also the faulty logic of the Catholic Church competing with other faiths. Why seek political power over other faiths? Is this Church saving souls through the moral guidance of its followers, or is its primary role to assert control over the diverse paths to out Creator? To what end? All Earthly benefits expire at death, do they not?

Like all of one’s co-created fellow-humans, each of us will surely ‘wing’ our way to the Afterlife (Heaven, if you wish) at death, untrammelled by the weight of transient wealth, pomp, and Earthly power.

Being kept alive at any cost

The Hippocratic Oath (the moral guide for the medical profession) says, in effect, ‘Do no harm.‘ It does not, however, require doctors to keep a patient alive at any cost. Who bears any such cost? Obviously, the patient!

An American surgeon, Atul Gawande, in his book ‘Being Mortal’ “… confesses that he and his colleagues in the medical profession have, in their right wish to prolong life, often forgotten that high-risk surgery may give a person more days but also less opportunity in those days to find a meaningful end to their life …

So wrote the Rev. Michael Jensen in the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 Aug. 2018 about ‘Our deepest fear is dying without meaning.’ Jensen also wrote ”And so the pressing problem for us as a society is how we can best end people’s pain – although that is vital – but how we can help each other to find meaning.” He also wrote “The real hell of dying is dying in despair.”

If you have been indoctrinated to fear (the mythical) hell because you have not paid heed to your priest; and if you lack a spiritual belief in relation to our Creator, and to the meaning of human existence, you may fear death. I know a few ardent church-goers who want to be kept alive, irrespective of any consequential significant diminution in the quality of their life.

Then there is the terrible issue of compassion being over-ridden by man-made theology – as has been demonstrated by successive Australian governments persistently rejecting voluntary euthanasia (doctor assisted dying) even after palliative care, surgery, and pharmaceutical products have been ineffective in controlling unending terrible pain.

Has God willed such suffering? What do His theology-bound agents on Earth have to say? Clearly religiosity over-rides morality in federal politics.

About 80 to 85% of Australians have unsuccessfully sought voluntary euthanasia, even with stringent safeguards against ‘killing’ and ‘suicide’, for decades (going back 70 years of observation by me)! Have our elected parliamentary representatives been influenced more by their clergy than by their voters? Compared with some European nations, how backward are we?

‘Mainstreaming’ vs. a parallel service in assisting immigrant integration

 

My new team was of genuine migrant origin, both born overseas. They had arrived in their teens without any knowledge of the English language and were now fluent. They also had tertiary qualifications. One, a Greek, had work experience in the State government; the other, a Polish-Jew, had private sector and political experience.

Our job was to be a conduit between the Federal government and the migrant communities; the latter would be more adequately aware of the government’s policies to help migrants settle more successfully into the community. More importantly, the communities would be better able to inform the government of any unmet settlement assistance needs, especially in obtaining access to services, including government services. These services would include immigration, welfare, legal, health, and so on. Improved access to services was the call.

To enhance this access, the Federal Government had already established a telephone interpreter service, a translation unit, (to translate documents of relevance to the immigrant’s settlement), migrant resource centres (MRCs), and schemes of grants. MRCs were small shop fronts offering meeting rooms for the local ethnic communities, and information, counselling and advice in some of the languages predominating in the district. Essentially, they were advisory centres for migrants, with all the attendant benefits flowing from that. I was to be involved with all these services later as Director of Policy.

The grants-in-aid scheme or GIA enabled a community to employ a welfare worker to service those of its members who needed advice, in their own language, on what services were available and how to access them. Another grants scheme subsidised one-off projects relating to settlement issues, including research. Mainstream, i.e. Anglo-Celt, organisations were eligible. The project subsidy scheme was a sort of slush fund or grease to quieten or sweeten those who went public about some poor ethnic group or other being in need about something or other!

There were lots of caring people suddenly coming out of the woodwork. Some projects, on the other hand, were of genuine value and reasonably desirable, even if not necessary, reflecting the views of very sincere people.

When I arrived upon this scene, there had already been a substantial public debate about the provision of settlement services by ethnic communities through public funding. The predominant issue was whether taxpayer-funded plural service structures would result and, if so, whether this would be detrimental to a cohesive nation. The underlying question was, and still is, why service providers at any level of government, or even in the private sector should not ensure that their services are uniformly accessible to those in need of such services. This was the concept of mainstreaming.

If such access required the provision of interpreters and translators, and public relations and information campaigns to reach their non-English-speaking constituency, the service delivery agencies, whether public or private, had an obligation to do so. And many did move along that track. However, the Federal government decided to embark on the funding of ethnic-controlled access mechanisms (it was mindful of the ethnic vote); and, in the early Eighties, it decided to establish in Sydney and Melbourne small but high-powered, high-profile ethnic-staffed units to liaise with the leaders of the local ethnic communities.

In the process, we would obviously come to know not only the hot spots of need, but also the hot spots of unrest. My team’s focus initially was on communities we knew little about, and whose needs might be great but who did not know how to express these needs. But we did also pay our respects to the major communities through their power brokers.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ written in 1995/6, and based on my experiences in the 1980s, might today raise such questions such as: Was this policy the beginning of a political approach by government to offer a degree of empowerment to the major ethnic communities, who were led mainly by second generation Aussies? How would this impact on the integration of immigrants into a cohesive nation?

As well, had service providers, whether public or private, actually been deficient in the extent, or quality, of delivery?

In this context, some members of the media, and a few junior academics of ethnic descent, had to be told persistently that there can be no second or third generation immigrants (or refugees). When accepted, the entrant became a first generation Australian, the descendants would be second and successive generation Aussies.

There also arose the issue of defining ethnicity. I asked the ‘Bulletin magazine’ whether the following person is an ethnic and, if so, how he is to be defined: Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by ancestry, Hindu by culture, and Australian by citizenship. That’s me! Readers, especially academics, were silent.)

Suffering pain after death?

A Roman Catholic bioethicist (is there any other brand of bioethicist?) was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald of 12 August 2018 thus: that she and nine other international counterparts were arguing that “assisted suicide had not achieved its aims of relieving pain and suffering … “

• Could the dead continue to feel pain?
• The matter under discussion is ‘voluntary assisted dying’ or ‘legislated assisted dying’
• But the journalist and the bioethicist refer to suicide, which is illegal (but why is it illegal?)
• Traditionally, those opposed to voluntary euthanasia have referred to the process as ‘killing’
• Then there was the claim that allowing voluntary euthanasia for humans (euthanasia for pets being acceptable) would lead to a societal slippery slope ; that thereby senior citizens could (would?) be killed by their clansmen for material gain
By what right do theologians and bioethicists of a single Christian church interfere in the lives of multicultural fellow-citizens whose paths to God are equally viable?
• Australia is officially non-sectarian – is it in practice?
• THE CORE ISSUE: HOW COULD THEOLOGY OVER-RIDE COMPASSION for those suffering unalleviated and enduring pain, in spite of palliative care?
• How could a Christian (or anyone else) deny compassion to a fellow-human co-created by God?

My contribution to my communities

I do believe that we have an implicit obligation to the community which sustains us. From my high school days until about 10 years ago (age 80), I have participated fully in what is known as civil society.

My greatest contribution was to have a federal government reverse (yes, reverse) a Cabinet decision. I was assisted by one of my Senators. We fought for the principle that one party to a legal contract (here, the federal government) could not unilaterally change the terms of the contract.

When, as National President of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters), I enabled – after 5 years of persuasion – women to become members, I was reportedly seen as a feminist. That apparently led me to be interviewed for the position of head of the women’s affairs unit in the Prime Ministers Department. I suspect that I was the token male contestant.

Going back in time, I was a foundation member of the Overseas Students Association of the University of Melbourne and also the Malayan Students Association of Victoria.
As the foundation chairman of a primary school board, I wrote the outline of a program to teach primary school children about religion (no religious indoctrination). The Schools Authority accepted my outline. I did express my hope to the Authority that high schools would cover comparative religion. (I had studied child development during my training as a research psychologist; and I had been reading about religion and religions since age 24.)
Ten years of a sustained effort (7 years as chairman of the union committee) on merit protection in the public sector in the national capital, and years of interviewing candidates for senior positions appearing before promotion appeals committees, led me to being granted a Meritorious Service Award by my public service union, the A.C.O.A..
Our efforts resulted in a legal judgement that natural justice did apply in the public sector; and an acceptance by the Public Service Board that total transparency in the selection and appeals processes – through written appraisals – should apply. This would deny oral personal denigrations – which were commonplace.

As well, I was the course director for 3 years of joint Public Service Board/A.C.O.A. courses (which I shaped each time, according to need) on interviewing techniques and selection procedures. My departmental head did say to me “I quite like the way you worked for the union” while denying me the promotion which my peers felt I had earned.

For another 3 years, together with a Scottish friend, I planned and taught, in the name of Rostrum, short courses for the federal public service, including one for foreign-service trainees from Asia.

I am the founder of a public speaking competition for primary school students in the national capital and surrounding townships; and the co-founder of a comparable national competition for secondary schools.

After retirement I served on 4 committees in one coastal township, and on 6 committees in another coastal township – where I now live. I am now too old, too tired, and too busy writing to make any further contributions to civil society.