State bishops oppose physician-assisted suicide bills

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Mon, Apr 13th 2015 09:00 am
Bishop Richard J. Malone.
Bishop Richard J. Malone.

New York is facing three bills that could allow physician-assisted suicide to take place in the Empire State. The New York bishops are urging voters to prevent these bills from becoming law.

"Once again, in the state of New York, we are possibly facing a major threat to the gift of human life," said Bishop Richard J. Malone, who described the bills as "dangerous."

The bills - S.3685 Savino, A.2129 Rosenthal and A.5261 Paulin - would add a section to the Public Health Law to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the express purpose of ending a patient's life. The New York State Catholic Conference opposes the bills as they would blur the medical, moral and legal distinctions between withdrawing extraordinary medical assistance and taking active steps to destroy human life. It would also undermine the physician's role as healer, and lead to psychological and financial pressures for vulnerable persons to end their lives. The American Medical Association issued a statement in 1994 saying, "Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients."

"Rather than assisting suicide, government should be consistent in its efforts to prevent suicide. It is illogical for the state to promote/facilitate suicide for one group of persons - calling the suicides of those with a terminal illness and a specific prognosis 'dignified and humane,' while recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances, and spending enormous resources to combat it," the conference said in a memorandum of opposition posted on its website.

The diocesan office of Pro-Life Activities has also posted the memorandum of opposition on its website.

"We're trying to educate people on all the nuts and bolts of what's in the bills, what they mean, what the law would allow physicians to do," said Cheryl Calire, diocesan director of Pro-Life Activities.

There is also an Action Alert link that will direct an email directly to the governor, state senator and state assemblymember.

"The biggest thing we need to do now is really take a deep breath and educate ourselves so that we know what we're talking about," Calire said. "Nobody would argue the point that we never want to see our loved ones suffering or in pain. What we have an obligation to do is to make sure that we're not giving people the impression or the opportunity to be authors of their life, because God is the author of our life. He gives us life when we're conceived and the decision of when our life is gone is also by the Creator."

People often fall into a depression after receiving a terminally ill diagnosis. Some feel a long illness might make them a burden to their families and decide that suicide is an option easier than dealing with a long drawn out bout of suffering.

"If you're in a bad place, if you're depressed, if you feel like you're a burden, you're not always making your best decisions either," Calire said. "The truth of the matter is, that is something they are convincing themselves of. It is our natural desire to be cared for and to be loved for however long that is. It is almost a reverse psychology in some ways because here we're trying to give someone permission to end their life versus encouraging them to make the best decisions they can for treatment or not have treatment."

Brittany Maynard became a poster girl for physician-assisted suicide last year when she publicly announced her decision to "pass away with dignity." The 29-year-old was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma. She died Nov. 1, 2014, with the assistance of her doctors.

Calire's father died from the same form of brain cancer in November 2011 just two months after receiving his diagnosis. She read that Maynard's mother and husband, although saddened by her death, felt they were respecting Maynard's wishes.

"When that whole case was going on, it was upsetting to me personally to see and hear that it was like she was a hero making this decision and how her family responded to it," Calire said.

"From the biblical perspective, we are not the owners and masters of our own lives," said Bishop Malone. "Our lives are gifts from God, gifts for us and gifts that are to be shared with others. We are stewards of those gifts of our own lives."

Often in the terminology used by those promoting physician-assisted suicide, words are used that make the act of quickening death sound acceptable, even preferable. Terminal sedation is sometimes known as palliative sedation. The term physician-assisted suicide has become assisted dying. Words such as compassion and dignity are often used when describing the act.

"Does that mean we are any less compassionate or any less caring that we nurtured our family member through to the end of their life, versus saying, 'It would be too hard to care for you. If you want to take this prescription that is available to you, feel free to do it?'" asked Calire.

"There is a special grace that comes from identifying our pain and suffering with the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross," said Bishop Malone. "In other words accepting pain and suffering, even though we want to fight against it, accepting it as a share in Christ's own suffering, can be redemptive for the world. I encourage all Catholics and all people of good will to plead with our legislators in Albany not to advance this dangerous cause."

The Catholic Church endorses hospice care for those who are terminally ill.

"That is the way we want to walk the journey with people who are moving toward to end of their lives on this earth," Bishop Malone said. "We certainly are grateful for the many different ways of palliative care that can be offered to relieve the pain of those who are suffering dreadfully."

Calire encourages people to understand concepts such as the use of ordinary vs. extraordinary means when keeping someone alive.

"The Catholic Church has clear teachings that we really should try the best we can to make sure everyone is comfortable all the way to the end of their life," she said. "We always say that you always have to consult with your physicians and let your risks outweigh your benefits. There are so many factors that go into that. It's not just a black and white answer like everybody tries to (make it)."

Age, health history, cause of illness should all be considered when planning treatment.

"The best thing people can do when it comes to these end-of-life issues is educate themselves about what it is that the person has, what the prognosis is based on, treatment vs. no treatment, and then have some really good conversation as a family or with trusted advisors to keep them as comfortable as possible until the end of their life," Calire said.

An end-of-life issues seminar will take place on May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster.
 

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