These are interesting times in which to be both a father and a pastor. One is supposed to have firm opinions about stuff in both roles, to provide leadership and at times be decisive. Yet I find myself a person who observes, tests the breeze and then responds. This is in contrast to a leader (or father) who forges ahead, making proclamations and judgements possibly without the full picture or implications available. Neither approach is perfect, and society probably needs both types of people in a crisis.
I write as the re-scheduled general election approaches next month. I am not foolish enough to begin to tell you how to vote, but I am happy to share some of my thought processes leading in. I've been thinking a bit about the two referenda that accompany this election. We will thus have four ticks to make in all.
I've always had a strong conservation/environmental ethic and probably would have voted Green a number of times in the past if it wasn't for their long-time fixation with legalising marijuana. As a father I'll be voting 'no' in the weed referendum, based largely on my observation of young men under the influence. I don't like what it does to them. They are less risk-averse than baby boomers and others, and have taken the current debate as permission to smoke weed because the Police and society will soon have other priorities. Yet it is proven the adolescent brain is highly vulnerable to potentially psychotic side effects of marijuana. The reality is, along with increased use among the young, this referendum will probably show an increase in stoned middle-aged folk feeling more chilled about their mid-life crisis.
I'm also very cynical about the role big business will play under a new legal framework. Big tobacco companies deliberately lied to human communities for decades about the harm of tobacco, big Dope will be no different, but with improved technology and a wider product range. It's all about making big money. I've never been tempted to smoke anything at all having had the salutary experience of watching both my physically strong grandfathers waste away to nothing from the effects of long term smoking. There was absolutely nothing cool or hip about that.
I have also come to a firm personal opinion about the proposed euthanasia bill. As a pastor, I have had the absolute privilege of journeying with terminally ill people on a number of occasions, sitting with them, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying, sometimes in silent companionship. The Holy Spirit draws close at times, words cannot adequately cover it. My fear is that those who are educated and have resources will get to safely make their own life choices, but the vulnerable, aged, poor and disabled will be subject to unintended consequences, and external pressure to sign up. So as a pastor I'll be voting no.
In my personal view, far better to fund palliative care properly than spend more money on the implementation of this new bill. In parts of Europe where euthanasia has become available, the criteria have invariably expanded to younger and healthier people. A slippery slope. Why is it that hospices have to go rushing around seeking fundraising all the time? The work they do is amazing, a gift from God.
As Christians we view human life as a sacred taonga, and we are rightly cautious when approaching this issue. For those who have watched someone linger and suffer terribly at the end of life and may cast a different vote to me in response, I'm not saying I have all the answers, and I would respect your freedom to express your choice. However, I think it is telling that significant numbers of doctors, including palliative care specialists, are opposed to the details of this bill, and regard participating in euthanasia as medically unethical. Hospice NZ have urgently gone to the high court to get clarity on some issues. We are potentially putting all of these people who dedicate their lives to the care of the dying in a very difficult position.
Meantime, I urge you to take your votes seriously, and to encourage the young or unmotivated to fully participate. That we have a stable voting system is a great blessing as we see the wheels of proper, meaningful democracy falling off the world over. Yet we should not fear, for our heavenly Father will give us the strength and wisdom we need.