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Overduin, Daniel Christiaan (1929–1992)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published online in 2016

Daniel Christiaan Overduin (1929–1992), clergyman and bioethicist, was born on 18 December 1929 at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, eldest of seven children of Jacobus Overduin, furniture-maker, and his wife Jannetje, née van Gelder. Although his education was disrupted by the German occupation, Daniel gained a certificate in bookkeeping, and was employed as a clerk with a trading company and then a school. Between 1949 and 1951 he undertook military service, and then worked for a shipping company (1951–57). He married Janna Adriaantje Surrland on 30 January 1952. After training in theology, in 1958 he was ordained in a conservative Calvinist group, the Gereformeerde Bonders, and appointed pastor at Sliedrecht.

In 1961 Overduin was dismissed for committing adultery with a member of his congregation (De Ryke, pers. comm.). Accepting an invitation from the ecumenist Dr Hermann Sasse, he migrated to Australia in 1962 with his family. After further study at Immanuel Lutheran Seminary, North Adelaide, he was ordained to the ministry of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church on 6 January 1963. He became an Australian citizen in 1968.

Overduin was pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church at Albert Park from 1964 to 1977. He was given a year’s leave in 1971 to study at the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney at St Patrick’s College, Manly, and became the first non-Catholic to graduate there (STL, 1973; STD summa cum laude, 1976). While his theses were on the moral theology of marriage, he had already begun to specialise in the emerging field of bioethics. This interest intensified in response to proposals for liberalising the law prohibiting abortion in South Australia. Convinced that human life should be treated as beginning at conception, in 1969 he helped to establish the Human Life Research Foundation. Despite its efforts to lobby politicians, a bill permitting abortion in certain circumstances was passed by the State parliament in December.

Three months later, Overduin formed the Right to Life Association and became its executive director. A gifted orator, he energised people at meetings and street marches, calling for stricter limitations on the circumstances permitting abortion, yet he sought to dissuade supporters from picketing or attacking clinics. He played a key role in inaugurating a national RTLA in August, and was elected its senior vice-president. In 1972 he founded Birthline, a South Australian pregnancy support group with trained volunteer counsellors. As an independent, on a ‘pro-life’ platform, he unsuccessfully contested the seat of Henley Beach in the 1973 South Australian general election. In 1979 he was co-founder of the Federation of Pro-Life Pregnancy Support Services in Australia Inc.

Released from parochial duties in 1976, Overduin taught at Concordia Lutheran seminary in St Louis, Missouri. On returning the next year, he was employed at the Lutheran Church of Australia’s (LCA) headquarters in Adelaide. He was a part-time lecturer at the Lutheran Seminary and Teachers’ College, an executive member of the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations, and was involved in ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholic, Uniting, and Reformed churches in Australia. Chairing his denomination’s Commission on Social Questions until 1991, he was then designated special executive officer to its renamed Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions.

A prolific writer, Overduin authored thirteen of the LCA’s statements on abortion, euthanasia, reproductive technology, the rural crisis, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), and other socio-moral issues. With the support of the church, he founded and became principal research officer of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer International Institute for Bioethical Studies, North Adelaide, for which he produced sixteen study booklets. In 1987 he was appointed, additionally, adjunct director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute at Plympton. He had been elected a member of the American Fertility Society (1985) and remained active in several international bodies that advocated a conservative stance on ethical-legal and medical-legal problems. Two of his books, Wake up, Lucky Country! (1980) and Life in a Test-Tube (1982), were written jointly with John Fleming, then an Anglican priest. They criticised the secular humanism that fostered developments which upset some Christians, including changes to the laws governing marriage and divorce, and experimentation on human embryos.

Described by a colleague as ‘a tireless worker with immense drive, dedication and enthusiasm’ (Schmidt 1992, 4), Overduin made enormous demands on those willing to help him. He retained his Dutch accent and, in later life sporting a magnificent mane of white hair, was always well-dressed. A heavy smoker, he died of myocardial infarction on 23 July 1992 in Adelaide, survived by his wife, three of his four sons, a daughter, and a Vietnamese orphan girl he and Janna had adopted in the 1970s. After a service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide, he was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Brixius, R. A., ed. Euthanasia—A New World Order?: Essays in Honour of the Late Dr D. Ch. Overduin, 1929–1992. Adelaide: Dietrich Bonhoeffer International Institute for Bioethical Studies, 1993
  • De Ryke, Caas. Personal communication
  • Lutheran Archives. Bowden, South Australia. Overduin, Daniel. Papers
  • National Archives of Australia. A446, Overduin, Daniel Christiaan
  • Schmidt, Jan. ‘Obituary: Reverend Dr Daniel Christiaan Overduin.’ Life News (Adelaide), August 1992, 25
  • Warhurst, John. ‘Politics and Moral Issues: The 1973 South Australian Elections.’ Flinders Journal of History and Politics 4 (1974): 1–11

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Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Overduin, Daniel Christiaan (1929–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/overduin-daniel-christiaan-18419/text30069, published online 2016, accessed online 27 June 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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