Friday, June 24, 2011

The US Bishops and the Struggle Against Assisted Suicide

Spirit & Life


Human Life International e-Column
Volume 06, Number 26 | Friday, June 24, 2011

HLI LogoThis week's column is by Monsignor Ignacio 
, HLI's Interim President. 

Spirit & Life
 is the weekly e-column of

Human Life International.


For Media Inquiries: Stephen Phelan 540-622-5270


The US Bishops and the Struggle Against Assisted Suicide 


As the risk of legalization of assisted suicide grows worldwide and in the United States, we have to welcome the recent statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide, approved at its Spring General Assembly in Seattle on June 16th. It is the first time that the full body of America's Catholic bishops has made public a guiding statement on this very concerning question. So, it is very important that Catholics read it, not only to become aware of this mounting menace to life, but to grow in our commitment to oppose it.  


A fundamental starting point of this document is the Catholic teaching that views suicide as a grave offense against love of self -- one that also breaks the bonds of love and solidarity with family, friends, and God. It also reaffirms that to assist another's suicide is to take part in "an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested" (John Paul II,Evangelium Vitae, no. 66). This goes together with a basic Christian belief that is grounded in natural law and revelation: that we are not the owners, but rather the stewards, of our lives, and thus we do not have the right to decide when our life should came to an end.


The bishops forcefully argue against the contemporary propaganda that considers suicide the last freedom of human existence, saying that when a person commits suicide he operates under an illusion of freedom.  Many laws that permit assisted suicide do not prescribe an evaluation of the mental condition of the person that requests suicide, so there is no way to assess if the freedom of this person is impaired. In the states of Oregon and Washington we have something that is more concerning. Once the lethal drugs are prescribed there is no way of verifying if the person who requested them is still acting freely, or if he is under pressure to take the poison, as there may be other persons interested in hastening his death.


The bishops very rightly denounce this situation stating that, "Here the line between assisted suicide and homicide becomes blurred." It should be evident that to offer lethal drugs to persons who are vulnerable and depressed is the worst form of neglect. Such abandonment is a form of abuse, and is a mistreatment and exploitation of vulnerable persons.


Assisted suicide requires a distorted view of freedom, by creating anexpectation that certain people, unlike others, will be served by being helped to choose death. Really, here we have a terrible form of discrimination. As the document states, "This biased judgment is fueled by the excessively high premium our culture places on productivity and autonomy, which tends to discount the lives of those who have a disability or are dependent on others."


The statement clearly shows how assisted suicide leads to involuntary euthanasia:


Thus in countries that have used the idea of personal autonomy to justify voluntary assisted suicide and euthanasia, physicians have moved on to take the lives of adults who never asked to die, and newborn children who have no choice in the matter. They have developed their own concept of a 'life not worth living' that has little to do with the choice of the patient. Leaders of the 'aid in dying' movement in our country have also voiced support for ending the lives of people who never asked for death, whose lives they see as meaningless or as a costly burden on the community.


Assisted suicide is based on a wrong and perverted form of compassion. We can not eliminate suffering by the killing of the persons who are in pain. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining a very active link of charity with those who suffer. Rather, as the document states with clarity, "Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions."


A society dominated by a euthanastic mentality adds to the suffering of the seriously ill people. These patients will soon realize that society as a whole see their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems, and will be dominated by a feeling of isolation and hopelessness. Here we should add that in a society that has not yet permitted involuntary euthanasia, those patients will feel the pressure to ask for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia.


Instead, as the document states, persons suffering from serious illness should be surrounded by "love, support, and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering." The document highlights the importance of an effective palliative care that would take care of the physical and spiritual needs of the patients. This would provide patients a good opportunity to; "devote their attention to the unfinished business of their lives, to arrive at a sense of peace with God, with loved ones, and with themselves."      


This valuable document presents a good summary of well argued reasons for why a Catholic should strongly oppose any form of assisted suicide, which is a sure road towards the legalization of euthanasia. It shows how we need to be strong messengers of the Gospel of Life, defending with courage, intelligence and love the lives of those who are vulnerable,  but who are threatened because of severe illness or different types of handicaps.


Defending those who are defenseless, whether they are elderly, severely disabled, emotionally troubled, or unborn, is a totally non-negotiable principle that should be an integral part of the social and political commitment of all Catholics.     



Sincerely yours in Christ,  


Monsignor Barreiro Signature

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula
Interim President, Human Life International






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