Oppose Physician Assisted Suicide

Cardinal O’Malley and the Boston Archdiocese are launching a major education campaign on physician-assisted suicide throughout the archdiocese, informing faithful Catholics as to why they should oppose the ballot measure expected to be in front of voters in November.

BCI very much supports the campaign and these initial efforts by the Cardinal and archdiocese to oppose the measure.  Here is a short overview in The Pilot: “Cardinal takes on assisted suicide measure in homily.”  The video homily played in most parishes can be found below:

[vimeo  34868759]

The archdiocese office of Faith Formation and the New Evangelization along with the Catholic Media Group produced the video as well as this new website, suicideisalwaysatragedy.org.

In the homily (text here) a few things stood out for BCI:

Experiences elsewhere with physician assisted suicide: The Cardinal said:

“There is a slippery slope leading from ending lives in the name of compassion to ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions. Doctors in the Netherlands once limited euthanasia to terminally ill patients; now they provide lethal drugs to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, mental illness, and even melancholy.

There is also evidence that the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide contributes to suicide in the general population. This is true in the state of Oregon which passed doctor-assisted suicide in 1994. Now, suicide is the leading cause of “injury death” and the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34 year olds. The suicide rate in Oregon,which had been in decline before 1994, is now 35% higher than the national average.”

Large flaws in the bill itself.
“For one thing, it requires that a doctor determine that the patient is capable of asking for lethal drugs, but there are no explicit criteria for assessing the mental capacity at the time of the request, nor is there a mandate to assess mental capacity at the time of the suicide.

The bill also requires two witnesses to attest to the patient’s competence, but one of the witnesses can be a total stranger, and another can be the sick person’s heir.

Also the law does not require that anyone witness the suicide, so there is no way to know for certain that the act was voluntary.

Finally, the death certificate lists the underlying disease as the cause of death, not assisted suicide. This creates underreporting and a legalized deception.”

The deceptive way in which the required signatures were obtained.

“Last Fall, proponents of this bill solicited signatures from Massachusetts citizens as part of the process for getting it on the ballot. You may have been approached and asked to sign the petition. People who were asked to sign reported that the petition was presented as a bill to “aid the terminally ill.” In fact, the bill does not use the word “suicide” because, as the lawyer for the organization promoting the bill has said, the word “suicide” is inflammatory. Instead, it talks about “aid in dying” or “A-I-D.” The major organization behind this effort also changed its name from the “Hemlock Society” to the deceptive “Compassion and Choices.”

The Cardinal asked people to do three things to help stop doctor-assisted suicide from becoming law in Massachusetts:

  1. Pray for people who are seriously ill and dying, and for their caregivers. Visit the sick which is one of the
    corporal works of mercy.
  2. Avoid believing the misleading and seductive language of “dignity,” “mercy,” “compassion” or “aid in dying” that proponents of the legislation will use to describe assisted suicide.
  3. Educate yourselves as much as possible on assisted suicide and share that knowledge with others. Brochures, prayer cards, bulletin inserts and other materials have been prepared for you and are available in your parish. Please visit the website www.SuicideisAlwaysaTragedy.org which has been created to educate people on this issue.

BCI felt all of this was OK. The general post-Mass chatter BCI heard and the feedback we are getting from those who saw the video has been positive on the video homily and the message from the Cardinal. That said, there are also a few suggestions and questions regarding how the message and impact could have been even stronger, so we pass these along for the benefit of the success of the initiative and the leaders of the initiative.

First, though the message that should people pray, avoid being misled, and educate themselves and others was good, what was missing was some urgent request that people take specific action to prevent this from becoming law.  More than 84,000 citizens signed their approval of putting this measure to the people of the Commonwealth (of which 79,620 were certified and qualified), so clearly we need help to convince the rest of society this is a bad measure. BCI and others we asked did not even remember the brief comment about sharing knowledge with others after first watching the video.

Thus, BCI thinks the Cardinal and the archdiocese should be asking each person who watched the video–and who then prays and educates themselves–to take a next step and share what they have learned by talking to 2-3 people they know in Massachusetts and letting them know why physician-assisted suicide is wrong on a moral and ethical basis. The parish resources area could have a sample email that anyone could use to tell friends about the new website, and include a few bulleted points about why this measure should be opposed.  The website might include a “Tell a Friend” capability so that if you want to share it with a friend, you can just enter the friend’s email address, and an email is automatically sent to the other person.

Second, the Cardinal could have been even more explicit in letting people know that signing any petitions to get the measure on the ballot or voting for the ballot measure would not only be a tragedy and not only a vote for suicide–but even more importantly, would be cooperation with evil and would be sinful. Perhaps he did not want to rankle people in the pews by using the word, “sin,” but it is something worthwhile to consider saying in the future. He also never explicitly told people to not vote for the measure and to spread that message to friends and family members.

Lastly, a few people are wondering what happens next before this measure goes on the November ballot. Oddly, no one from the archdiocese has said what happens next, except we know from The Pilot that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will hold a public hearing on the so-called Death With Dignity Act on March 6, and Secretary for Faith Formation & Evangelization Janet Benestad said on Cardinal Sean’s blog that  “if the legislature does not act before May 2012, the “Death with Dignity Act” will appear on the ballot next November as a referendum.”  There is actually one more step.

Here is what the assisted suicide advocates, Death with Dignity, are saying about the next steps:

Over the next few months, legislators will discuss the initiative and consider one of the following steps:

  • The General Court can pass the initiative as it’s written. (This rarely happens.)
  • The Judiciary Committee can make a formal recommendation of Support, Do Not Support, or Neutral.
  • The Legislature can put its own version of the initiative on the ballot. (Again, this is rare.)

If the legislature doesn’t pass the initiative as it’s written, the next step for Dignity 2012 will be another phase of signature gathering in the beginning of May. This next signature gathering phase would be smaller than the one which took place in the fall; the campaign would need to collect 11,485 qualified voter signatures between the beginning of May and July 3rd to be considered for the November ballot. Voters who signed the petition during the first signature gathering phase cannot sign the second petition.

So, the next step after the hearing is that the assisted suicide supporters have to go out and get more signatures. In pragmatic terms, if they got more than 80K signatures last year, they can probably get another 11,485 this spring. But that does not mean we should just sit back let them succeed without a fight. If we are to educate voters to reject this measure that will likely be on the ballot in November, why not see if we could educate enough people now so that maybe the folks who support executing the elderly might fail to get those additional 11,000 more signatures and the measure dies an early death before getting to a statewide referendum?

The statistics from Oregon are shocking, powerful and logical for anyone to grasp and understand. So are the flaws in the measure as described. They should be emphasized and broadly communicated.

Words are also important–as evidenced by how those supporting physician-assisted suicide call themselves “Death with Dignity.”  So BCI would humbly suggest the Archdiocese continue to use strong words that accurately portray what is happening here.

  • The U.S. Catholic Bishops said about assisted suicide: “True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead.”
  • Cardinal O’Malley said, “Allowing doctors to help patients kill themselves, is a ‘corruption of the medical profession,’ a clear violation of the Hippocratic oath by which doctors promise, “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone even if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.” Elsewhere he said, “to have our physicians become executioners is a chilling thought.”

Last September, Fr. Roger Landry wrote in A Commonwealth of Kevorkians or Good Samaritans:

“This initiative petition is a time in which all citizens of the Commonwealth have the chance to choose the path of Cain and Kevorkian [executioners] or the path of the Good Samaritan. It’s the path of the executioner or of the truly compassionate care-giver, the life-affirming hospice nurse, the 24-hour operator at suicide prevention hotlines, and the heroic firefighter or policeman who climbs bridges, risking his life to save those who are contemplating ending their own. The path of the true brother’s keeper will also be shown in the educational work of those who begin anew to form and inform others about the dignity of every human life and persuade legislators and fellow citizens to rise up to defeat soundly this evil initiative. It’s a choice between life or death.”

This evil initiative that legalizes physician-assisted execution of the elderly and infirm must be defeated. Even if you did not interpret the message from Cardinal O’Malley as an explicit and urgent request that you tell others, take a moment to send a copy of this blog post to a few Catholic or non-Catholic friends and family members in Massachusetts, or send a link to the website http://www.suicideisalwaysatragedy.org.  It really is a matter of life or death.

15 Responses to Oppose Physician Assisted Suicide

  1. Boston Blackey says:

    Many years ago, before he became the primary voice in the fight against abortion, Dr. Joe Stanton warned that this was where we were headed. At the time it was all about contraceptive “rights” with the arrest of Bill Baird for distribution of condoms and contraceptive foam. How right he was. RIP Dr. Joe

    • BobofNewtn says:

      I oppose the initiative but not for the reasons BCI notes in its thoughtful post:

      1. The initiative merely codifies what goes on every day in hospital rooms (in my opinion – note BCI, the words “in my opinion” LOL); and
      2. It opens the door to litigation for the physicians who, along with the witnesses participate in those actions.

      I also find it interesting that the Cardinal by – passed the Catholic legislatue and appealed, instead, to the electorate. Given the fact that he was talking to 14-16% of those who attend Mass and an even lesser number who read the Pilot, my question is whether he has already thrown in the towel or is merely looking like he is on top of things. My guess is the latter!

      It is almost like his stance on contraception – Massachusetts has had the same provision as President Obama propoed in the law about birth control for the past ten years: name ONE Catholic employer that has withdrawn from participation. What’s next? How about challenging anew the theory that the World is round!

      • BobofNewtn, If you re-read the post, you’ll see this is a citizens’ ballot initiative to put a new law up for vote by the people. The legislature could pass it as law by May, but that is rare and extremely unlikely, so the likely outcome is this will be on the ballot in November for the people to vote on. If the people vote in favor of it, then it becomes a law. Thus, there is actually no legislative action Cardinal O’Malley could have called for. Going to the people is the right move.

  2. Alice Slattery says:

    One of the saddest facts of life is that the Boston College Law School allowed Charles H. Barron to teach on its faculty for years. He is retired now and is listed as “Professor Emeritus”. Most of his work and writings have been in defense of doctor-assisted suicide. He was one of the original members of the Hemlock Society and is presently a member of the Board of Directors of the death with Dignity National Center. Just think of all the damage that he was allowed to encourage among his students, many of whom are practicing lawyers and law-makers who will be involved in the campaign to get the Physician Assisted Suicide bill passed in Mass.

  3. Alice Slattery says:

    I misspelled Charles H. Baron’s name. It has just one r in his last name. Sorry!!

  4. Anni says:

    There wasn’t a word about this in my parish this morning. I don’t expect to hear anything in the future. That’s the way it is…

  5. qclou says:

    thankfully there was a special announcement by our pastor and plenty of copies of the RCAB produced info brochures. these are available from the website ; Jim’ has copied in his blog

  6. Anni says:

    If the Cardinal cannot convince his pastors that this is important, how on earth are we going to get the word out to the people! I cannot even try to express my frustration here. I have read all the materials, and some of it – yes, maybe even much of it – is very good. There are some good suggestions for homily notes and some suggestions for prayers of the faithful. If a parish used the guide, this matter could be kept in the forefront for the next several months.

    My pastor said and did nothing. He did put the pamphlets on a table in a dark corner at the back of the church. I’m sure that not many of them went home with parishioners. There wasn’t a word in his homily or in the bulletin. There was a plain vanilla petition in the prayers of the faithful to “respect all life from conception to natural death”. I was the lector and I put a LOT of emphasis on “natural”. If I wasn’t such an orthodox Catholic I would have given a two-minute “homily” right then and there to call attention to Doctor Prescribed Suicide, but, taking my orders from St. Paul, I know it’s my role to be silent in Church – except that I do get to read his letters. Phoebe, Dorcas, and Prisca probably did that as well…

    The problem here is how do we get our pastors to “get with the program”? I don’t know if this guy is afraid of saying things that aren’t politically correct or if he is a moral relativist or what. He is an absentee pastor who does very little “heavy lifting”. He is away at his vacation home four days each week. He does not take part in any parish activities. He refuses to address contemporary moral issues. His homilies are simplistic and sound like they came from the Unitarian-Universalist playbook. Yesterday we were told that there are lepers among us and we have to be nice to them.

    Not a single mention of World Day of the Sick! Not a single mention of the Cardinal’s mention!

    What can a faithful Catholic do when the pastor is abdicating his responsibilities – other than send him an anonymous missive that contains the text of Ezekiel 34?

    I need advice.

    • Liam says:

      From yesterday’s bulletin at St Cecilia’s in Boston:

      Yesterday, February 11, was the Memorial of
      Our Lady of Lourdes. Every year since 1992,
      the Catholic Church celebrates World Day of
      the Sick on this memorial of Our Lady. Pope
      John Paul II wanted this day to be an occasion
      to reflect upon the mystery of suffering, to become more aware of our sick brothers and sisters, and to honor doctors, nurses and all who
      practice the healing arts. This year, World Day
      of the Sick is especially challenging for us in
      Massachusetts. This coming November, people
      in Massachusetts will be faced with a ballot
      initiative that, if passed, will de-criminalize
      doctor-prescribed suicide in our Commonwealth. Those who support the petition say
      that it will provide compassionate care for the
      terminally and incurably ill. Intentionally causing a person to die, or providing a person the
      means to take his own life, is not compassion
      nor is it an expression of care and concern,
      even if they ask us to do it.
      Today, we will hear a pre-recorded homily
      from His Eminence, Cardinal Seán O’Malley on
      assisted suicide and the dangers that it poses
      should it become legal in the Commonwealth.
      The Cardinal will talk about the fact that, as
      Catholics, we have the responsibility to defend
      the principle that each of us has the right to
      live each day until the time we are called to
      eternal life. We will receive prayer cards,
      brochures and other materials to help us in
      our understanding of end-of-life care. Many
      of these materials may be viewed at www.
      suicideisalwaysatragedy.org. Please do all you
      can to pray and work for the success of this
      education initiative.”

      • Jonathan says:

        Why does every one pick on this good priest? Fr John is a good, holy, and very pastoral man. The discussion on the out door statues was a real turn off to me.In the real world of human suffering that was just silly. What’s happened to this blog? It used to be so different. Now it’s all about search and destroy some priest that you don’t think is faithful. If you can do a better job get of the key board and do it. There has to be some thing better than throwing mud at some one doing the very difficult work of being a priest without people plotting behind his back. I haven’t been in here in a while since I don’t need to hear all this venom.

    • naturgesetz says:

      Realistically, I don’t think you can expect to get much of a change in his homilies. Perhaps that is just as well. It would be unfortunate if you got him to speak about contemporary moral issues and it turned out that he’s a relativist, and he started undermining Church teaching. And I really think that preaching against certain sins just tells people what they already know. We don’t need to have homilies telling people that _____ is a sin. They know that is what the Church teaches. They need two things: a thorough presentation of the reasoning behind the teaching (which may not be possible within the confines of a homily), and the grace of the Holy Spirit touching their hearts (which happens on God’s clock, not ours).

      More important, and perhaps safer, would be to have the materials on this and other issues more prominently available and mentioned in announcements and bulletin.

      So I’d suggest going to him and saying something like, “Gee, Father, the material from the Archdiocese on physician-assisted suicide is great, and I think it would help lots of people understand what’s at stake. I’d love to see it more prominently displayed (maybe you could suggest locations); and can we mention it in the announcements and ask people to take a copy?”

  7. Jack O'Malley says:

    The Cardinal is to be greatly praised for this initiative. But I fear that, despite the eloquence of his plea, he will persuade few. Some four hundred years before the Good Lord walked the earth, the Greeks, who graced us with art, literature, science, democracy and indeed all the elements of civilization itself, also bequeathed to us the highest standard of medical ethics in the oath of the Ionian physician Hippocrates. Videlicet:

    I will give neither a deadly drug if asked, nor will I offer such advice. In like manner, neither will I give means of inducing an abortion (a destructive pessary). In purity and in accordance with the natural and divine law I will preserve my life and my art. {1}

    That our present “democracy” now readies a law to enable healers to kill is not a mere slippery slope. It is the looking into the abyss that plunges us into Avernus.

    If the ancient pagan Greeks knew of the natural and divine law, how came it about the we modern Christians have forgotten it? If we can extirpate from the womb, how not to expedite to the tomb?

    [1] My translation from the original Ionic Greek.

    • qclou says:

      Since Jack has given us an extract of the Oath of Hippocrates, I looked for and found the Wiki article on the oath. I am posting a so-called ‘modern’ version below. Unfortunately, though much of this version written in 1964 has much to be commended. there is one phrase which greatly troubles me. see if you can find it.

      A widely used modern version of the traditional oath was penned in 1964 by Dr. Louis Lasagna, former Principal of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences and Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University:[8]

      I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
      I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

      I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

      I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

      I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”, nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

      I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

      I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

      I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

      I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

      If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

      • qclou says:

        to all BCI followers: I just uploaded the video of Cardinal Sean’s homily on the Euthanasia initiative petition, to my Facebook page. i’m not sure how many of my friends and family will look at it, but may I suggest to all followers of BCI they do the same thing on their page. We need to speak out in every way possible to defeat this referendum article.
        I speak from experience, my first wife died in 1996 in our bedroom in the care of her family and the wonderful people of Hospice and the modern miracles of Rx without pain and surrounded by love with weekly visits of our children and family members and by priests, especially Father Jim Hickey traveling from Rockland to Foxboro on his day off , frequently with his brother Danny [ RIP] , to spend time and share the comfort of his prayers and presence with Joyce.
        That is what Catholic Faith tells us to do and it works.
        Her funeral was concelebrated by 7 priests and 2 deacons and attended by hundreds of people.
        I will speak out on the evils of euthanasia and the beneficence of Hospice to any who will listen.

  8. carol says:

    You all are good writers. Why not write letters to the editor on the opportunities for elder abuse, the abhorence of medical doctors to killing, etc?
    I am not sure, but the legislature may be able to stop the ballot initiative in May. It would be nice if the RCAB or MCFL clearly outlined the steps involved.
    Otherwise, a very good job was done on the website suicideisalwaysatragedy.org

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