On November 29, the University of New South Wales withdrew its offer to operate Australia's first safe-injecting room experiment, citing concerns that it would be unable to both run the service and fulfill its original obligation to evaluate the clinical trial. But by Tuesday, officials from Sydney's Uniting Church had stepped in accept an offer from the state government for permission to take on responsibility for the project.
The future of the proposed safe-injecting room, which would provide Sydney's injection drug users with clean needles, an array of social services, and a place off the streets to use drugs, has been uncertain for the last several weeks. The New South Wales government had initially approved a plan by the Sisters of Charity, who run St. Vincent's Hospital, to conduct an 18-month trial of a medically supervised safe-injecting room. But the Sisters were forced to rescind their proposal in the last week of October, after the Vatican issued a directive ordering them to abandon the project. That move prompted one of Victoria's senior judges, Justice Frank Vincent, to resign as chairman of the Catholic Church's drug task force in protest.
Uniting Church's decision to enter the fray has already caused some dissension among its ranks. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on November 30 that two high-profile Sydney Uniting pastors have come forward to oppose the move. One of them, Rev. Dr. Gordon Moyes, reportedly accused supporters of the plan of advocating "a theology of death."
Meanwhile, UNSW's researchers are still expected to conduct the official evaluation of the project once it is underway. A scientifically sound and objective evaluation of the trial, which harm reduction advocates hope will result the same decreases in disease and overdoses as similar experiments in Europe have shown, is critical to its success.