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Euthanasia and the Eighth Commandment

Opinion Piece

In the Roman Catholic version of the Ten Commandments, the Eighth is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”; an injunction that forbids intentionally deceiving others. One would like to think that Christians, especially the more conservative ones, would consider honouring the truth to be central to the way they conduct their lives.

So when the Eighth Commandment is routinely flouted by conservative Christians campaigning against David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, it seems that truth is subordinated to dogma.

Campaigners for the right for the terminally ill to avoid unnecessary suffering — for that is what it is — are endlessly attacked by religious opponents routinely exaggerating the dangers, but carefully steering clear of that which dare not speak its name — the religious motive.

The reason is obvious; just over half the population have no religious beliefs. Religious dogma cuts very little ice with most people, so they have to devise an alternative strategy to avoid any mention of their real motive.

To put it mildly, concocting non-religious arguments has proved challenging, not least, for truth.

A particularly devious tactic has recently come to light in the newspapers. A certain “Stephen Francis” has written letters to The Dominion Post, The Gisborne Herald, The Southland Times, Hawke’s Bay Today, Rodney Times, The Northland Age and most recently The Whanganui Chronicle, all arguing against David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill.

Nothing surprising about that, but what’s interesting is that “Stephen Francis” does not exist. A bit of sleuthing among electoral rolls has revealed that he is actually Stephen Francis Penk, a Teaching Fellow at Auckland University Law School and formerly Associate Professor of Law and Assistant Dean of the faculty.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting: Stephen Penk is also the father of Chris Penk, MP for Helensville, and Alex Penk, who runs the conservative Maxim Institute. All are committed, conservative Christians who have campaigned publicly against assisted dying.

Perhaps Stephen Penk is too shy to put his own name to the public campaign against voluntary euthanasia, but his submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee outlining legal arguments in opposition under his real name belies that.

Or could it be that three Penks writing to newspapers might seem like one Penk too many?

A more likely explanation is that using a pseudonym creates the impression that opposition to the bill goes beyond a religiously conservative family all campaigning on the same issue.

Whatever the explanation, his deviousness has resulted in this law lecturer and committed Christian being skewered on the three spikes of a trident.

First, protocol at most newspapers forbids pseudonyms, so why would a law lecturer decide that he was exempt from this rule? Maybe God gives him a free pass on this one.

Second, a good Catholic knows perfectly well that the Eighth Commandment forbids deceit. He might have justified this to himself on the basis that “Stephen Francis” is two-thirds of his full name, but most people, and certainly newspaper editors, would consider this overly legalistic.

Third, Stephen Penk, alias Stephen Francis, has put himself in the very odd position of publicly commenting on a letter by his son to The Gisborne Herald and demanding an apology on his behalf without identifying himself as Chris Penk’s father.

Ironically, his desire for anonymity is likely to have boomeranged and produced precisely the opposite effect.

Martin Hanson