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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.