“Going Dutch”: Euthanasia and the Beautiful Game

John Kleinsman

My accent is Kiwi but the name gives it away. I'm a first generation New Zealander of Dutch descent and it is something I'm proud of. I'm also a football fan – I love watching 'the beautiful game' and once enjoyed playing it!

The Dutch are known for many things including the quality and technique of their football. It was the Dutch who, in the 1970's, invented what is now known as 'total football', a tactical style in which players' positions are interchangeable as part of a general method of attack – difficult to defend against. It's very much a team oriented approach and around the world football coaches have learnt much from this Dutch innovation.

Ironically, while they have over the years continued to produce players of exquisite talent and ability who perform exceptionally as individuals, the Dutch football teams have also gathered a reputation for self-destructing at the highest level of competition and they now carry the tag of being the best team never to win the World Cup; three finals and three defeats! Commentators agree that this is largely the result of internal divisions brought on by the inability of their talented and strong (some would say stubborn) individuals to create a team culture; total football on the field is not compatible with an individualistic approach off it.

The Dutch are also well known for being the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia; something that evolved from turning a blind eye to euthanasia to openly tolerating its practice and eventually to legalising it in 2002. It has occurred to me that there is a commonality between this fact and their struggles on the football pitch.

I have always been intrigued by the fact that the debate about euthanasia (and physician assisted suicide) is prominent only in certain societies, namely affluent white western societies. Why is that? It's a question that is rarely explored. My own hunch is that it is a feature of those largely secular societies where certain assumptions prevail; where the dominant notion of personhood is individualistic and the dominant 'virtue' is the individual's right to make his or her own choices. This emphasis on autonomy and rights shapes us to see the world as belonging to those who are independent, strong and productive. It also shapes us to see moral issues and dilemmas in a certain and very narrow way.

The liberal case in favour of euthanasia is not without its own logic. The argument is made by proponents of change that legalising euthanasia will not adversely affect the freedom of those who do not want to die in this way. On the other hand, the ongoing prohibition of euthanasia unfairly prevents some (albeit a very small minority) from exercising their freedom of choice; the personal beliefs of one group are then effectively being forced onto others, or so the argument goes. In this way, those in favour of euthanasia frame the issue in terms of the protection of rights; specifically the right to choose. The current law in New Zealand is seen as bad law because it unfairly prevents people from making their own end-of-life decisions. Good law, it is stated, upholds individual choice above all.

At this point in the debate I suddenly find myself agreeing with those proposing a change in the euthanasia laws. And I say to them: 'You are right. This debate is about choice!' They look surprised and quizzical while I continue: 'What you don't realise is that it is the legalisation of euthanasia that will ultimately take away people's choice.'

A law change that allowed for people in certain circumstances to dispose of themselves (physician assisted suicide) or be legally 'disposed of' would inevitably start to reshape the way we looked at sickness, old age, disability and death. In particular there would exist the temptation for relatives, as well as over stretched and under resourced care institutions, to see those who are disabled and sick as a burden to be shed rather than as persons to be cared for. Furthermore, and perhaps even more seriously, legalising euthanasia has the real potential to change the way in which those who are disabled, sick and elderly see themselves. These people are already vulnerable because of disability, sickness or infirmity. In a world in which they feel undervalued and isolated they will more easily come to see themselves as a burden and will want to do the right thing if euthanasia is legalised. The so called 'right to die' all too easily becomes a 'duty to die'. On-going debates about the costs of caring for people in the last six months of life fuelled by greater pressure on health-care resources and growing numbers of elderly persons living in institutions will only further exacerbate this pressure.

In other words, the net result of legalising euthanasia would be that those who are most vulnerable will become subject to various forms of physical and psychological coercion. Upholding the choice of a few to be euthanised will effectively take away the choice of large numbers of others to live. What is initially presented as a matter of freedom and choice now comes to look more and more like the imposition of a burden. In the words of one who knows and for whom the desire to live is at times already tenuous in the face of the burden his chronic illness places on others: "If euthanasia were a legitimate option ... then life for the chronically seriously ill would become contingent upon maintaining a desire to continue in the face of being classified as a burden to others ... The mere existence of the [euthanasia] option will affect attitudes to our care, and hence our own willingness to continue."

Furthermore, it is both impossible and contrary to reason to limit euthanasia to a particular group of persons, such as adults or those with a physical terminal illness. Recent developments in Belgium, Holland's closest neighbours, which have extended euthanasia to children, are the most recent testament to this. In the words of one commentator: "The right approach to life and death cannot be restricted to adults. It stands to reason that if euthanasia is a virtuous and compassionate act and a right given by law, then restricting it to only the aged and excluding children is illogical." If euthanasia is permitted as a 'treatment' for pain and suffering then it has to be made accessible to all people.

That inevitably includes people incapable of making a competent choice? While the Belgian law regarding children stresses that the child must repeatedly request euthanasia and be proven to have the capacity to understand what they are asking for, it is, ultimately, just as illogical to restrict euthanasia to those who are competent. No other medical treatments are given or withheld on the basis of a person's competence.

The experiences of the Dutch are, once again, instructive in this regard. Euthanasia of neonates has long been tolerated under what is known as the Groningen Protocol. More recently a public referendum has been initiated in the Netherlands that would allow those over 70 to access euthanasia for no other reason than that they were 'fed up' with life. This would include people who felt isolated, who were demoralised or who felt themselves to be of no use and a burden. As one commentator notes: "Euthanasia in the Netherlands has gone from requiring terminal illness to no physical illness at all, from physical suffering to depression only, from conscious patients to unconscious, from those who can consent to those who cannot, and from being a measure of last resort to one of early intervention."

Thus, legalising voluntary euthanasia is tantamount to permitting all forms of euthanasia – voluntary and non-voluntary and, as international evidence shows, will invariably lead to cases where people are euthanised against their explicit wishes (involuntary euthanasia). It is, therefore, inevitable that choice will be undermined.

To reiterate; the choice to allow euthanasia to remain illegal is a choice in favour of the rights of people rather than the opposite as proponents claim. However, it is now readily apparent that we are talking about a particular kind of choice. It is a choice that recognises the needs of the most vulnerable. It is a choice to promote and uphold the common good. It is a choice that locates individual decisions within a community perspective. It is a choice to care. It is more of a 'total football' approach to life which recognises that strong minded individuals do not always bring back the winners medal.
It is evident to me that Maori and Pacific Island cultural perspectives have been largely absent from New Zealand discussions on attitudes to dying. It is their voices we need to bring a fresh perspective. The Western approach considers respect for human life almost exclusively at the level of respect for the individual while ignoring the effects such a law change would have on society and at the institutional level, in particular its effect on the institutions of law and medicine. It is an approach which too easily neglects the fact that, when all is said and done, we are all interconnected persons whose identity and well-being is tied up with being part of a caring and inclusive community.
'Going Dutch.' In the colloquial sense it's all about individuality; paying one's own way, going it alone, not wanting to be beholden or a burden, being independent. 'Going Dutch?' No thanks.

I will, of course, keep on barracking for the Dutch football team as they travel to Brazil for another go at that elusive World Cup just as I will continue to be vociferous and staunch in my opposition to euthanasia. Come to think of it, I am even grateful to the Dutch for demonstrating so clearly the dangers of euthanasia ... if only they would go back to a 'total football' philosophy.

John Kleinsman is the director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre – The Nathaniel Centre

Why euthanasia slippery slopes can’t be prevented

Margaret Somerville logically and articulately argues that when it comes to euthanasia, “logical and practical slippery slopes are unavoidable and inevitable.” The initial “conjunctive justification compromised of respect for individual autonomy and the relief of suffering” is gradually supplanted by an appeal to either justification on its own which opens the way for non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.

This article is available online here: http://www.mercatornet.com/careful/view/13676

The sacramentality of adoption: A Trinitarian love

The article by Timothy O’Malley examines the nature of adoption, challenges the stigma associated with it, and suggests that adoption can be viewed as a strongly sacramental icon – an act of self-giving love on the part of the mother that infuses the child’s existence from the very first moment.

This article is available online here: http://americamagazine.org/issue/trinitarian-love

Euthanasia: A child’s choice?

Rev Dr Gerard Aynsley

It is difficult to imagine a more painful reality than that faced by parents of a terminally ill child. Is child euthanasia the answer? In Belgium politicians have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’.

Chris Cleave, in his 2012 novel, ‘Gold’, takes the reader into the mind of seven-year-old Sophie who is receiving treatment for Leukaemia. The author gives a powerful portrayal of the sort of angst a child may experience when seriously ill and the ways the child will, quite naturally, be concerned for her parents. Sophie is forever attempting to protect her parents from knowing how sick she is, and, in doing so, unwittingly prevents her parents from being involved in her care. I was reminded of the character, Sophie, when reading in Saturday’s Otago Daily Times (15.02.14) that members of the Belgium Parliament had voted 86 to 44 in favour of lifting restrictions to their present Euthanasia law so that terminally ill children could request the assistance of a physician to end their life. The Belgium proposal takes into account that a child’s “legal age isn’t the same as mental age” and that a child can have “a capacity for discernment”. I concur that a child has the capacity to make important choices, but the vulnerability of the child and the possibility that, like Sophie, a child may inadequately understand a situation must be kept in mind.

It was as a member of the Otago Ethics Committee some years ago that I saw some of the practical ways in which a child’s capacity to choose could be honoured. As a committee we held strongly to the view that children should, where possible, be included in the consent process and in discussions about their own health. Inasmuch as it was possible our committee would insist that researchers involve the children in the decision-making and that they explore ways of conveying information that was accessible to the particular age of the child. We also encouraged researchers to have an agreement form for the child to complete additional to the legal consent signed by the child’s parent or guardian. While there was a deep respect for the child’s choosing capacity, forefront in our minds was the fact that children are vulnerable, and a sick child is particularly vulnerable. A child needs others to stand up for them; to ensure there are proper safeguards; to consider the more complex possibilities. The vulnerability of the child needed to be taken into account and the most important way this was addressed was by ensuring the child’s choosing didn’t occur in isolation.

Choosing doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but rather in a complex web involving the lives of others who are also making choices that intersect and overlap with our own. As human beings we make choices, not only with our own needs in mind, but also for the sake of an ‘other’: we choose to spend time with them; to help out; to forgive; to show kindness; to bear with the other in their difficulties. Children are indeed capable of making choices to do with their own wellness, but they especially need the choices of adults to overlap and intersect with their own choosing. The Belgium proposal may appear on the surface to show respect for children and their capacity to choose, but it fails to sufficiently take into account the child’s vulnerability and the child’s need for adults who are called upon to make good choices for their sake.

One of the things that makes a child particularly vulnerable when it comes to making choices is the simple fact that she or he has limited experience. This can impact on how they form an understanding of the situation requiring a decision. A child may not see the whole picture or may not understand fully the various options available to them. A child may be confused in their summing up of a situation. Think, for example, of the child who imagines he is responsible for his parents’ choice to separate. Similarly, a child who is seriously ill may see herself as the cause of her parent’s suffering and think that if she were no longer around her parent’s suffering would be lessened or alleviated. Sophie, in the novel, ‘Gold’, was looking at things in this way. The legal age is set for a very important reason. Children need the protection and care of adults. Children, whose minds are developing and whose experiences are limited need to be protected from the burden of thinking they have both the power and responsibility to make things better for their families.

In fact, all people living with a life-limiting illness need to be protected from this burden. It goes to the heart of why euthanasia is a bad idea for adults as well as children. The claim that an earlier death will somehow make everything alright is a spurious one that is not resolved by a simple appeal to ‘choice’ or the capacity to choose.

Rev Dr Gerard Aynsley is a parish priest in the diocese of Dunedin. He holds a PhD in philosophy from Monash University in Australia

Import and Export of Gametes and Embryos: Proposed advice to the Minister of Health

 A Submission to the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology

In March 2013 the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART) issued a background paper seeking feedback on various ethical and policy issues associated with the import/export of gametes and embryos. The response made by The Nathaniel Centre was printed in Issue 41 of The Nathaniel Report. After collating the feedback it received, ACART then issued its proposed advice to the Minister of Health in the form of a Consultation document and once again invited feedback. The following article is based on the submission made by staff of The Nathaniel Centre

Introductory Comments

In our previous feedback on the import and export of gametes and embryos we raised concerns about the ongoing viability of the current New Zealand framework in the face of increased opportunities to access human reproductive technologies overseas. We are pleased to see the strong emphasis in the Proposed Advice on upholding the well-established principles and values that underpin the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Act, including in particular the long-standing commitment to altruism. Altruism is, as noted in the proposed advice, a cultural value consistent with other areas of domestic policy. It also lies at the heart of a 'gift-based approach'. For us, the idea that life is a gift represents a critically important ethical 'marker' in assessing the acceptability of using technology to assist the transmission of human life.

The logic of 'gift' is, we believe, inherent in the 'natural' form of human procreation, evidenced among other things by the language traditionally used to speak of the birth of a child. On the other hand, the use of technology, defined as it is by notions of production, (quality) control and efficiency, reveals a very different logic, one that is of its very nature antithetical to the gift. Thus, it is to be expected that the increased use of technology in human procreation naturally inclines us away from, and therefore poses a potential threat to, a gift-based approach to the transmission of human life. This is amply witnessed in the language that appears in debates about the use of human assisted reproductive technologies. It is also evident in the various practices which, in many countries, mean that gametes and embryos are being increasingly treated as tradeable objects subject to little more than the market norms of supply and demand. It is now evident that in certain parts of the world the harvesting and sale of eggs and the contracting of surrogates has become a 'booming business' creating significant wealth for those providing the service. Somewhat ironically, the appeal to children as a 'gift' is often used to market human assisted reproductive technologies by those who have most to gain financially from this 'business'.

A gift-based framework reflects the central Christian belief in the divine and spontaneous origins of all life. However, it is also recognised by many secular philosophers and anthropologists as the traditional basis for describing the transmission of human life independently of any religious perspective. In other words, the shift to view and treat human procreation more and more in terms of the marketplace represents a significant departure from the long-standing way in which societies across many cultural and religious divides have thought about parenting and the role of children. It is a shift that we strongly believe is detrimental to viewing and treating each child as a unique person who demands unconditional respect. It is a shift that needs to be consciously fought against, just as human slavery was and continues to be opposed on the basis that it involves the commodification of human beings.

As the use of technology in human procreation becomes more extensive, it will take considerable and intentional effort to continue to protect the transmission of human life as a 'gift' rather than a tradeable commodity. This remains one of the most serious concerns for us. We therefore welcome the determination being shown by ACART to preserve the ethical values and associated policy in the HART Act in its proposed advice to the Minister of Health.

Import and subsequent use of embryos

As noted in our introductory comments, we are firmly of the view that the principles that underpin the HART Act need to be upheld.

At the same time, this stance presents a dilemma for us given our belief in the inviolable right to life of the embryo no matter what the circumstances of its origin. As we have noted in other submissions, a consistent commitment to the principle of unconditional respect for the embryo rules out all activities on embryos already created by IVF other than for the purpose of implantation and bringing to birth the human life that has already begun.

On this basis, we would like to see an 'exception' being made in certain carefully defined cases where the circumstances do not meet New Zealand requirements for importing; namely those cases where a couple (or individual) seek to import embryos containing the genetic material of one of the applicants (or applicant) if those embryos were created while the applicant/s were resident overseas (in contrast to reproductive tourism) and where the embryos are to be used for the sole purpose of extending their family and where the couple had previously undertaken at least one cycle of IVF overseas using 'sibling' embryos. We do not think that there would be great difficulty in determining which cases met such a test, contrary to what is suggested in the Consultation document.

We admit that this could be seen by some as creating a situation of inequality thereby contradicting the principled stance taken by ACART to preserve the ethical values and associated policy in the HART Act which we whole-heartedly approve of. In our minds, however, we see such cases as the 'exception' to the rule, and therefore as sitting alongside the rule rather than undermining it or creating a precedent for other cases.

Export of gametes and embryos must be in accordance with the HART Act

We have previously stated our strongly held view that the deliberate separation of the biological, gestational and/or social aspects of parenthood are not in the best interests of the child. We believe that a sense of personal well-being is fundamentally linked with a healthy self-identity, which, in turn, is intimately and inextricably tied in with a lived knowledge of our biological ties - whakapapa. This knowledge is put seriously at risk by arrangements that exclude children from growing up within the families of their biological origins or, worse, deny them knowledge of their biological origins. The export of gametes and embryos means that in many cases children will effectively be denied the right to grow up surrounded by the family networks that are generated by their biological ties.

It follows that gametes and embryos that originate within New Zealand should have been sourced or created within the parameters of the HART Act. It will, of course, be difficult to follow up on the subsequent use of gametes and embryos once they have been exported, which means the approach being suggested is essentially based on a high level of trust. This parallels, in many ways, the approach taken by the health and disability research committees who make particular recommendations to researchers without knowing if they will always be followed through. Relying on the good will of those who make the application to export gametes or embryos means there may well be instances where the commitment made is (quite intentionally) not followed through. Even so, and without being able to identify or eliminate such cases, making the subsequent use of gametes and embryos subject to the requirements of the HART Act will send the strongest message possible about the robustness and integrity of our current New Zealand approach, as well as our commitment to the key principles and values that underpin the Act. To do anything else would expose us to the criticism of being ethically inconsistent.

We agree that gamete providers need to give informed consent to the export of gametes or embryos created from their gametes. The information provided as part of the consent process should include information about the HART Act as it applies, and the reasons for its requirements, so that the provider (donor) has a proper understanding of the reasons why New Zealand imposes the restrictions it does on the subsequent use of gametes and embryos. Any donors need to be appraised of the fact that ultimately New Zealand has no control or jurisdiction over the way in which gametes and/or embryos will be used overseas.

Decisions about import and export for assisted reproductive procedures and research

In general we agree that fertility services providers should continue to make the decisions about whether the import and export of gametes and embryos is consistent with the principles of the HART Act. We do, however, have concerns about providers making decisions relating to the export/import of gametes/embryos given the not insignificant financial stake they have in the procedures. Therefore we approve of moves to introduce more detailed and transparent requirements as outlined in the Consultation document.

With respect to decisions relating to the importing of embryos that fit the 'exceptional case' that we have argued for above, we believe that the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART) should provide an independent review and be responsible for the final decision. We understand that this would involve only a small enlargement in terms of the scope of ECART's existing functions and its current workload. As noted in the Consultation document when referring to "those prevented from bringing embryos back to New Zealand": "New Zealanders involved in trans-border reproduction appear to be a small proportion of those using assisted reproductive procedures in this country".  The particular fertility services provider could be made responsible for preparing the application and ensuring the information provided therein was correct.

As we have previously noted on numerous occasions, we are opposed to all research involving human embryos, including those that are so-called 'spare'. A thorough exposition of our reasons for this is outlined in a submission made to ACART on The use of gametes and embryos in human reproductive research: Determining policy for New Zealand in February 2007.

Donor compensation

This aspect of the Consultation document concerns us greatly. As argued in our Introduction, we agree whole-heartedly with retaining the critical distinction between altruism and commercial supply. However, we are specifically disconcerted by the suggestion of providing "compensation" for non-financial losses and in particular the rationale behind the idea that any increase in the level of expenses "should not leave donors in a significantly better position [presumably better financial position] than they would have been in without donating". It is not that we disagree with what is being stated here – i.e., we are not arguing donors should be able to find themselves in a better financial position. Rather, and to the contrary, we think the statement is potentially contradictory in so far as it, perhaps unwittingly, shifts the line between altruistic donation and doing something for financial gain.

In keeping with the real-life meaning of a 'donation' or 'gift', it is to be expected that normally speaking a donor is, in a tangible way, left 'worse-off' – worse off in the sense of having willingly taken on a 'cost' or 'burden' (whether financial or temporal) for the benefit of another. This is, surely, the whole point of giving – giving something of one's self or one's possessions to enhance the well-being of another who lacks something, while accepting that it involves a real personal sacrifice. Providing a monetary donation to an aid organisation is a good example of this – apart from any satisfaction associated with the act of giving, the giver is left, literally, 'out-of-pocket'. If that were not the case it could not be genuinely described as a 'donation'. Conversely, when a person does something for another on the basis of securing a tangible return, either because they don't want to be left worse off, or because they may even find themselves better off – whether "significantly" or otherwise is irrelevant – then that type of action no longer qualifies as a true gift or donation. The act is not necessarily a 'bad' one for that reason but, and this is our key argument, the possibility of describing that act as an altruistic one, and consequently the opportunity to provide a gift or donation, no longer exists. The act then belongs to a different class of action; it is, quite simply, more akin to a marketplace trans-action.

How does this thinking apply to compensation for donors of gametes or surrogates? We accept that persons should be entitled to receive adequate "reimbursement" for real financial losses or costs such as visits to health professionals. These are easily determined. However, we oppose in the strongest possible terms the idea of people being "compensated" (as defined in the Consultation document) for discomfort or other non-financial losses in the form of any payment or fee for services. We believe this would take the conception of such a child out of a gift paradigm and, by default, into an economic paradigm. We cannot justify in our minds what would amount to a purely utilitarian rationale that placed outcomes (e.g. the suggestion in the Consultation document that it might lead to a greater number of egg donors) before the preservation of the 'dignity' of human persons which we understand as requiring an absolute rejection of the commodification of human life. Compensation for non-financial losses would result in opening the door, even if only a crack, to the eventuality of people being 'paid' to be donors or surrogates. Ongoing commitment to the principle of altruism, and thus to the concepts of non-commodification of children and non-commercialisation of body parts, demands nothing less than a rejection of any financial payment for non-financial losses.

Furthermore, such a move would have a flow through effect. Above all it would prejudice the altruistic values that have long been part of the culture of donating blood, kidneys and other tissues for New Zealanders. In addition, once the prospect of financial 'gain' for non-financial losses enters into the equation, it introduces a risk for informed consent; as soon as money is on the table, informed consent is too easily compromised or manipulated.

Staff of The Nathaniel Centre


Monsignor Vincent Joseph Hunt

Every parent must look at a new-born baby, and ask what the future holds for the little one. ‘What then will this child become,’ as people asked when they looked at the newborn John the Baptist?

It would have been no different for James and Winifred Hunt on 14th July 1924 when their son Vincent Joseph was born on the family farm in County Roscommon. They too would have looked at their son, hoping and praying for him. I suspect they prayed he would become a good and faith-filled man because they were people of faith. But these parents could never have imagined that their newborn would one day become such an instrument for good and such a universally loved and respected priest here on the other side of the world.

The Gospel we just heard speaks of the seed that falls into the ground and dies, but springs up to new life. And certainly Vince lived and died many times in his 90 years. Or to put it in another way, his was a life marked by self-emptying that brought new life. Not that he spoke very much about it because he was such a private person, but from time to time there were indications that his goodness came from following the path of the crucified Christ.

Often I wondered about his life on the family farm – he never seemed to be a farmer at heart, but he did have a deep love of nature and of all living things. The world of scholarship was his milieu, fostered by the Cistercian Fathers at their boarding school in Roscrae. Certainly that time with the Cistercians explains something of his contemplative spirit. So it is not altogether surprising that on leaving school young Vincent joined the Columban Mission Society and began studying for the priesthood at Dalgan Park. Within a very short time it became clear that his health could not withstand the rigours of missionary life, in fact, he had developed tuberculosis, and was asked to leave. This was one of his early spiritual experiences of self-emptying and loss that God would use to bring new life. During his time of recuperation Vince moved to Belfast where he began studying modern philosophy at Queen’s University. From this study he developed a deep-seated respect for the human person, a philosophy that was confirmed by Jesus’ relationship with all kinds of people. So, Vince would speak of what he called, “The grammar of human relationships.”

After the illness Vince applied to a diocese in California – I think it was San Francisco – and was accepted to continue his priestly studies in their seminary. However, the ship from Ireland had to call first of all at Ellis Island in New York harbour. There he was declared an unsuitable migrant because of his previous TB and was promptly put on a ship back to Ireland. (It was something he seldom spoke about, but it pained him deeply). More self-emptying, but with the promise of resurrection. Back in Belfast towards the end of his studies he heard that a certain bishop from Auckland, James Michael Liston was looking for priests, and so Vince was invited to complete his studies for priesthood at St Patrick’s Seminary, Thurles in County Tipperary.

Finally, after ordination in 1952 he travelled to New Zealand . Incidentally, on board that ship was a 5 year old boy by the name of Philip Handforth, migrating from England with his parents. In the strange ways of Providence, Philip was later to follow Vince as rector of the seminary in Auckland.

To many, Vincent was distinguished as a philosopher. Incidentally, I make no apology for constantly referring to him as Vince or Vincent, because for him the name he received at Baptism was always his preferred way of being addressed. In fact, on one occasion recently, when a senior priest called him, “Monsignor,” he replied very gently, “My mother used to call me Vincent.”

His passion for philosophy goes back to his time as an undergraduate student in Belfast. He told me that there he discovered the 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, author of the highly regarded work, I and Thou. At the heart of the book is Buber’s conviction that human life finds meaning in relationships. That is why he would criticise any attempt at doing philosophy by “viewing the world through a key-hole,” as he called it. For him, as for Buber, true philosophy required an engagement with the other – not standing aloof, attempting to understand in a disengaged way. There was a short poem by the Irish poet, W B Yeats, that he loved to quote, making the same point: “God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone. He that sings a lasting song thinks in a marrow bone.” To think in a marrow bone, not to think in a heady and disengaged way, but in the depths of one’s being. And isn’t this the way he related to everyone?  All the seminarians at Mosgiel loved his genuine concern for them and his ability to accept them just as they were. I often felt that he carried the pain of his own rejection when he was asked to leave the Columban seminary, and for that reason, he would never be responsible for making a student feel in any way unwelcome.

His kindliness as a professor is brought out in a story that is attributed to Vince. This particular student who struggled with philosophy handed in an assignment that was clearly copied from a book. According to the legend, Vince asked him to come up to his room to discuss the work. The first thing he asked was, “Is this your own work? Did you write it?” “No,” said the student, “I copied it out of a book.” “Well, I know,” said Vince. So he then asked, “What I want to know is, did you understand it?” “No,” said the student, “but I thought you would.”

This same genuineness and respect for his students in philosophy carried over into his later study of moral theology. He never thought of himself as a very good moral theologian, but his great strength in that field was his ability to understand and respect the human condition and the struggles people had. At that time he read and absorbed another Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas who insisted that people are responsible to one another in their face to face encounter. Or as Levinas preferred to say, philosophy is about the wisdom of love, rather than the love of wisdom.

And this talk of the wisdom of love draws us back to the love of Christ and the love of philosophy that in Vince’s life were inseparable. Always, in his homilies, he would include a subtle insight into the person and the human condition, and then show how the person flourishes through the grace of the Christ. His serious reading and pondering led inevitably to writing. Over the years he contributed to quite a number of journals and books, developing his thoughts in a simple yet profound way. In recent times Neil Darragh and others have been collecting and editing his written works for publication later this year, and our sorrow is that Vince will not be with us in corporeal form when that book is launched.

Though he was never a parish priest and worked only briefly in a parish, he was a priest of Jesus Christ through and through, with a sensitive pastoral heart open to all. How apt are the words of the first reading, that the life and death of each of us has its influence on others. He was such a gift to the Sister Disciples at St John Vianney House, and they in turn gave the gift to him of such very special care. And then St Paul adds, if we live, we live for the Lord; if we die we die for the Lord. Vince’s life and death touched so many of us, not the least during the final weeks of his illness. As he approached death he said that he found the Psalms more full of meaning than ever before. 

The Gospel we heard speaks of the seed falling into the ground and dying, but then springing up to a rich harvest. There were so many emptyings and sufferings in his life, and we knew only a few of them. There was his earlier struggle to become a priest with disappointment on disappointment. His ill health that led to part of his lung being removed. And what many wouldn’t realise, his own confusion about being named rector of a seminary. The day he was appointed he said to me in his typically self-deprecating way, “I don’t know why I was asked to be the rector; I’ve never organised anything in my life. I couldn’t even organise a brown paper bag.” But being a rector was not primarily about being an organiser, but a man with heart and soul, a humble man transformed by grace. In fact, I have lived with three saints in my life, and Vincent Hunt was one of them.

In the Gospel we heard, Jesus pray, “Father, glorify your name.” To glorify means that the grace and goodness of God may be manifest for all to see. And that is what we witnessed in the life of our dear brother, the power of goodness shining out through this frail and unassuming humanity.

 But then the voice from heaven replied, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” What can we do to ensure that that glorification continues as God the Father promised? When I was a very young priest a much loved and respected priest of our diocese died. An older man said to me at the time, your mentor has died, but in the spirit of Elijah, why don’t you pray for his mantle to fall on you? In that story from the second book of Kings, the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven, and as he went his disciple Elisha called out begging  that the great prophet’s gifts would fall on him, in the form of his mantle. That is what happened. Elijah’s mantle fell at the feet of Elisha, so that Elisha now shared in the gifts of his master, in fact, his shared goodness remained in two-fold measure.

So, I ask you to consider, what is one of the great gifts you admired in the life of Vincent Hunt? In the spirit of Elijah, why not ask today for that gift to fall on you, as our brother is taken up to the heavenly throne, where life is changed, not ended. Where the darkness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality.   May he there rest in eternal peace.

Mass Readings

Rom 14: 7-9

Psalm 23

Jn 12: 20-28

Abortion law reform: What would Anna Patterson Stout say?


Frances Townsend


The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) passed a remit at its 2014 September Conference to review the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 "with a view to simplifying [the abortion law] and ensuring a women's right to choose." This remit was passed by a large majority.

NCWNZ is a federation made up of very different groups of women: radicals, conservatives, feminists, church groups, political parties, rural women, urban women, ethnic groups, business women, philosophers and philanthropists. It is a well-regarded umbrella organisation whose members include nationally organised societies of women, and NCWNZ branches. Individual members belong to the Branches together with representatives of these organisations. Consequently, the NCWNZ is a finely meshed net for catching the opinions of women.

NCWNZ has existed since 1896 to work for the benefit of women, families and community at local, national and international level. It researches the needs of women and the family, engages in education for women that helps to advance women, collects and redistributes information of service to the community. It maintains links with international councils. As an organisation NCWNZ is non-political and is not organised for the furtherance of any one interest.

At the very first meeting of NCWNZ in 1896, the gathered women discussed the many forms of violence against women, poor working conditions and the need for financial equity. The fact that in 2015 we are still discussing those things is an indication of just how long social change takes. But the pressure needs to be kept on. NCWNZ does that and over the years women have made steady gains.

One of the most effective ways NCWNZ goes about its task is to make submissions on every Bill that goes through Parliament which has a major impact on women, families and communities. The law makers appreciate this input from an organisation representative of a very wide and diverse segment of half the population. Some of the issues, like the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act, are controversial, not least among the membership.

Lady Anna Patterson Stout (1858 – 1931) was a foundation member of NCWNZ, the most well-known of the founders after Kate Sheppard. She lived through momentous times that saw the gold rushes, phenomenal immigration, building the railways throughout the land, opening up the country to wool, wheat and frozen meat exports, the Boer War, becoming a Dominion instead of a colony, the First World War, patriotism, the first cars, and the Long Depression throughout the 1880s and much of the 1890s. The Long Depression saw much poverty, soup kitchens, drunkenness, and prostitution. All of these things defined Lady Anna Stout's life.

Anna's parents were well off. They were freethinkers and members of the temperance movement. Freethinking is a philosophy, its adherents holding that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" . Anna was greatly influenced by the principal of the Girls Provincial School in Dunedin which she attended from age 12. There she was taught womanly propriety, duty and service. She was brought up to believe in women's rights. At the age of 18 she married another freethinker, Robert Stout, a barrister and Member of Parliament who was knighted in 1886, at which point she became Lady Anna. From this position of eminence she worked for women, children and communities through a number of organisations: In 1885 she became a foundation member of the Women's Christian Temperance Movement and in 1892 she was elected president of the Women's Franchise League in Dunedin. In 1895 she founded the Southern Cross Society. This Society aimed to educate women politically, promote their independence and equality and improve the living conditions of women who worked for wages.

In 1896 she attended the convention in Christchurch as a representative of the Southern Cross Society and became a Vice-president of the newly created National Council of Women. She was a strong advocate of the Council representing all women's organisations. In 1897, she protested: "If the industrial, educational and philanthropic societies are not to be represented ... the Council could not be considered either national or representative".

Later she helped found the NZ Society for the Protection of Women and Children and the Plunket Society. In the post-war period Anna fought for women's rights to a full education not just domestic training. She fought for women to be treated in the same way as men were, in the matter of venereal disease and prostitution. Professor Raewyn Dalziel who wrote Anna's biography for the Dictionary of NZ Biography said of her that she had led a life at the cutting edge of change in women's public role. She was strategically placed to negotiate for women's advancement and this she had done publicly and privately.

What can we who are living in the 21st century learn from Lady Anna Stout; this feminist, fighter for justice, women's rights and equality, philanthropist and a woman deeply concerned about women's health and welfare? More specifically, what might be her contribution to the current debate about the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act?

Consider what she might say about these three hypothetical yet credible modern young women: One young woman believes in her autonomy over her own body especially in the matter of having unwanted children. The second young woman is a very sad woman. She suffers from depression and even contemplates suicide as a way out of her unhappiness. There are a number of reasons for her depression, but one that eats away at her is that she had an abortion. The third young woman is also a very sad woman. She cannot have children. She wants to adopt a child, if there were children to adopt, but there are few and the way to them is slow and difficult.

What would Lady Anna Stout say? With her freethinking background and as a feminist she would have sympathy and compassion for all three women. But she would want to see the evidence. First, she would want to study all the research on the consequences of abortion, especially the New Zealand based, internationally recognised, and long term research of Professor Fergusson and his team. In addition, she would want to study all the research that challenged his findings that there is a link between abortion and mental ill-health.

She would want to ask many questions such as: How is abortion actually criminalised under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, as some claim? Would easier abortion lead to more abortions? What has happened overseas where abortion is not curtailed by law? Would more abortions, if that happened, lead to more women suffering depression and suicidal thoughts? And would easier abortion lead to even fewer babies for adoption? Are there any changes that could be made to the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act that would lead to more babies for adoption? With her experience of the Liquor Industry's strong opposition to the Women's Christian Temperance movement, she would certainly want to look carefully at the abortion industry itself to see what pressures, commercial or otherwise, operate on women and groups like NCWNZ. Lady Anna Stout was not afraid of tackling difficult subjects and nor should we be afraid. She would want every aspect of women's health thoroughly researched, studied and discussed. She would argue for gender equality but, as a woman of integrity, she would also argue strongly for equality among all women within the NCWNZ family.

It is clear that there is a huge empty space opening up for those whose focus is on the rights of the unborn and the needs of pregnant women. It is important to keep an open mind to all evidence including research that shows the damaging effects of abortion on women. Whatever side of the debate we are on, we need to tackle the abortion issue with love not aggression. There is an urgent need for support for pregnant women who feel unable to cope with their pregnancy, for women who are childless and who are desperate to adopt, and for women whose babies die in childbirth. For the childless, The Sullivan Birth Certificate Act of 2014 is a breakthrough in legislation since it allows a birth mother and an adopting mother to both sign the birth certificate.

Members of the medical profession who carry out research in New Zealand, quite rightly in my view, do not want to be seen as allies of either side. We need objective research and the job of researchers is to get the results, to have their work peer-reviewed and make them known in reputable journals. Lady Anna Stout, who played a critical role in the founding of NCWNZ, believed in the importance of research evidence on which to base action in the support of women.

She was also a woman of great compassion and this is what must guide those on both sides of the issue.

NCWNZ has a ceremonial Rosebowl which was presented by a member in honour of her father, Sir John Clifton Webb, a distinguished politician and diplomat in the post-WWII period. This article was based on a presentation given by the author to the NCWNZ National Conference in October 2014 as part of the Rosebowl ceremony.

Dr Frances Townsend is a retired lecturer in teacher education and educational leadership at Auckland College of Education. She is a member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, Papakura Franklin Branch and Auckland Catholic Women's League, Diocesan Council.

Does ‘Ethics’ get in the way?


Gerard Aynsley

A court somewhere in New Zealand is likely to be faced with the question of whether it is permissible to use the preserved sperm that belonged to 17 year old Cameron Duncan, a talented Auckland youngster who died of cancer 11 years ago. They will be asked to consider the legal and ethical aspects of the proposal and will also have the task of considering what sort of precedent is being developed and whether the direction in which such cases would lead us is a good one for our country. Is this something that should concern the wider public, or is it best left for expert ethicists to argue the case?

The Editor of the Sunday Star Times expresses a hope that this not “degenerate into a divisive national argument about reproductive ethics”, suggesting, it would seem, that such discussions are best left out of the public domain. But these sorts of cases invite broader questioning; about what it is to be a parent; about how our individual interests relate to the interests of others, and what it means to be human beings together in the advent of ever evolving reproductive technologies.  For this reason these sorts of cases do matter to the wider public and should evoke wide and robust debate. In fact they provide us with an important opportunity to reflect together on what it is that we most value.

Too often ethical discussions are narrowly confined by questions regarding actions and choices, and benefits and harms, within a very limited individualistic frame. While such questions are important, they too easily descend into debates about competing interests and degenerate into the sort of divisiveness that the editor cautions against. An example of this narrowing of our ethical focus is reflected in the way that consent often becomes the paramount concern – as if the establishing of consent is all that is required to establish ethical validity. Consent, of course, is an important consideration, one that brings into play the legitimacy of an individual’s choosing and the question as to whether the individual’s interests are being upheld and safeguarded. But, we also need to contemplate broader concerns.  We need an approach to ethics that goes beyond the elementary questions.

In 1981, American Philosopher Alaisdair MacIntyre wrote an important work entitled, “After Virtue”, a book that has led to a revival in Virtue Ethics and a revisiting of the question of Natural Law. He suggests that in the current context – influenced as we are by modern thought – we use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ etc. without realising that they have become disconnected from an earlier, very specific and commonly accepted understanding of human flourishing from which they derived their original meaning. In other words, the moral terminology we use is often empty, enabling us to ‘fill’ the words with our own meaning.

Where might we obtain this meaning from? These days there are multiple worldviews or ideologies that frame – consciously or unconsciously – our thinking and which ‘compete for our vote’ so to speak. Think, for example, of a word like, ‘wellbeing’. It is a word used a lot, but does it mean – in today’s environment –  anything in and of itself, or is the word merely a ‘vessel’ in which we pour a particular idea of what ‘wellbeing’ means from our particular individual standpoint?

The same can be true too for our moral terminology. Inasmuch as there is no “shared conception of the human good” (MacIntyre, p.x) then our ethical discussions are going to falter and be characterised by divisiveness. A case like the one involving Cameron Duncan provides us, as a society, with an opportunity to consider what a shared conception of human good would look like.

To avoid our moral language being divisive and absent of meaning, McIntyre redirects us to the philosophical context that first gave rise to the moral language that we use, namely, to Aristotle and the Greek birthplace of Western thought. For Aristotle, ethics centred on the question as to what sort of human being we are capable of becoming and whether we are living a truly flourishing life. Importantly, it was a question that was always asked with consideration for the Common Good being paramount.  Aristotle recognised that virtue is necessary for a flourishing life and for the enhancement of the Common Good, and that human beings are ideally formed to be virtuous.

So, within this broader framework, focused on human flourishing, virtue and the Common Good, what insights can we bring to a discussion like the present one regarding the posthumous use of gametes? Within this broader framework, consideration of individual interests and the need to determine whether or not Cameron would have consented to his sperm being used will shift from being our exclusive or even central consideration. Rather, we are redirected to take a broader view that considers the good of the human person in unison with a concern for the good of society. The genius of this approach is that it avoids evaluating individual interests in isolation from (or as competing with) the Common Good.

An aspect of this relationship between human flourishing and the Common Good is the need for an adequate understanding of our human aspirations. There is something about the nature of a human being that leads us to strive for a good beyond ourselves, such as was the case in Cameron’s aspirations to be a father and to express his creative talents. We have hopes and dreams and the capacity to strive toward them. Nevertheless, our physical and material nature places limitations (or sets the parameters) for our aspirations.

Even when the accomplishment of our aspirations does not come about, the striving that occurs marks something important about our humanity and reminds us of horizons beyond the here-and-now. Virtue, as ‘second nature’, is necessarily associated with this, our ‘first nature’. Developing virtue as a support for our aspirations ensures that our flourishing as a human being and the pursuing of our human interests will coincide with the interests of society as a whole.

In particular, the prospect of Cameron, who died 11 years ago, becoming a father (in the biological sense) should cause us to think deeply about what it is to be a parent and how the interests of a child are taken into consideration.

In conclusion, the discipline that we call ethics invites us to take a step back, to consider the ethical frameworks that inform and frame such a debate. With the hope that we can move beyond heated ethical debates that will lead to divisiveness, I propose that we need to reclaim a shared and rich conception of the human good that takes as its starting point the notion that we are interdependent (rather than independent) persons who are born into and exist within a network of relationships. In the process of doing that, it will become clearer what actions are ‘ethical’.  That, in turn, can inform our efforts to create good public policies and laws.

Rev Dr Gerard Aynsley is a parish priest in the diocese of Dunedin. He holds a PhD in philosophy from Monash University in Australia.