- Tuesday, 13 November 2012 11:24
The front page
of today’s New Haven Register carried an article by Jordan Fenster,
“Right-to-die bill may be discussed by legislature” by which the citizens of
Connecticut were alerted to the possibility that in the next session of the
legislature the question of assisted suicide will be on the table. Following
the defeat of Massachusetts ballot on the same subject last week, the contagion is now again flowing south. Already three US states, Oregon, Montana and Washington, allow for
physician assisted suicide. 34 states prohibit lethal doses of medication that
would end human life.
Let me say from the outset, this is not a Catholic issue. Persons of belief and unbelief ought to be concerned about the potential passing of a law that legalizes medically induced suicide. Hence, this is not a conservative issue. This is not a an anti-human dignity issue. It
is just the opposite: this is a human issue. Who we are a human beings, and how
we teach each other is a human issue that is informed by what we believe and
how we behave. Committing this legislative error is a problem of education.
Recall that in the past when a similar bill was brought to the CT voters it failed only 51-49%.
Several weeks ago there appeared in the New York Times an
intriguing OP-ED article that I believe we need to seriously consider in the
discussion of physician assisted suicide. Considering voices that differ from ours need to be thoughtfully taken into account because we are people use who reason to frame our moral lives. We can’t simply dismiss the other and therefore I appeal to people of belief and unbelief to reasonably discuss what’s at stake. When we rush the discuss without fact we always get burned.
In my opinion not enough attention has been devoted
to considering how this legislation has been lived out in this country and in
others, nor have we considered the philosophical, theological, sociological and
human consequences of such an act. Most often our heart-strings are pulled, even stretched leading us to decide weighty matters without due attention to the reality in front of us –to the person and people and intimately connected with life and death issues. We also don’t always adequately consider the eternal consequences of killing someone before natural death happens.
Who’s life are we “making dignified” by engaging death before it’s naturally
presented? What really is human dignity? What does it mean to be truly a man or
a woman in relationship with other men and women here-and-now, and following
death? To what extent does fear, anxiety and perceived suffering dictate how we
think and act toward others? Are we sufficiently aware of and sensitive to the difference between ideology and being a person, no matter how debilitated?
Here is Ben Mattlin’s October 31, 2012 New York
Times article published online.
Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast
Read more ...
- Saturday, 07 March 2009 10:00
In 2008 Georgetown University Philosophy professor Tom L. Beauchamp coauthored Principles of Biomedical Ethics, a widely used book in bioethics courses, in which he sanctions and defends “physician-assisted dying.”
According to a Winter 2008 Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly article by J. Brian Benestad, Beauchamp and his coauthor pronounce unconvincing “some of the arguments against the legalization of ‘physician-assisted dying.'” Throughout the book the authors are redefining terms “that used to have nothing to do with administering death-producing drugs,” explains Benestad. For them, “Lethal pills are called medication; helping suffering patients to kill themselves is called virtuous (beneficent, just, etc.). Not helping these patients is a failure to respect their dignity.” In Principles, the authors state: “We maintain that physician assistance in hastening death is best viewed as part of a continuum of medical care.” Benestad counters the argument, citing “the medical profession’s devotion to heal and refuse to kill – its ethical center – will be permanently destroyed” by such a policy. (courtesy of the Cardinal Newman Society)
So much for professors at so-called Catholic universities either thinking with the Church or at least not publicly contradicting Catholic teaching. Is this beyond the exercise of academic freedom viz. faith and reason? It’s interesting Beauchamp received the Pellegrino Medal in 2004 which honors recipients for contributions made in healthcare ethics following the spirit of the father of the American bioethics movement, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino. Pellegrino is a practicing Catholic and on faculty of Georgetown.
- Friday, 06 March 2009 10:30
Voters in the State of Washington approved Initiative 1000, the so-called Death with Dignity Act in November. According to the media it’s modeled closely the Oregon law allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients determined to have six months or less to live. Oregon‘s suicide law is now 10 years old and Washington has become the second American state to legalize assisted suicide.
As a result of last year’s state ballot Initiative 2000, terminally ill patients in Washington State can now obtain lethal medications from doctors in order to kill themselves. Washington‘s hospitals are now forming a suicide plan to facilitate this newly found “right.”
Suicide is a tragedy. People who elect to do this act are not thinking in a right manner and are looking for a way out of their pain, sometimes they say they want to ease the pain of loved ones who care for them. Whatever the reason for acting this way is, their desperation leads to a permanent self-inflicted act leading to their intended death. Suicide prematurely and violently leaves loved ones to pick up the pieces post-mortem. Many are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted from their health issues which is understandable: chronic illness can be painful but suicide is an inadequate way to deal with the harsh reality of life.
The Church’s teaching is: “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God” (Catechism, 2281).
But quoting the Catechism is insufficient in dealing with the issue at hand. Let’s not be confused: we need to know and follow what the Church teaches. Her wisdom is immensely reliable and it ought to form our conscience. Here I want to raise the matter of dealing with the issue pastorally, lovingly with courage and strength. No statement of teaching is going to ease the pain of illness or feelings of desperation. Only the love and mercy of the one who made us can do that. The Lord loves and cherishes each one of us, and He gives the grace to sustain us until the moment of natural death. The Lord knows our pain and our human struggle because He is a man. What the Washington and Oregon state laws do is replace the love the Lord and family offer us with a cold mechanism releasing us from our human need. These laws replace the reality of humanity with a cold, shallow perfunctory “right” that gives a person the possibility of hurting themselves and family and friends deeply not to mention it wounds their relationship with the Lord (whether they know it or not).
Responding to the poignant human need of those who face the hard fact of someone taking their own life, the Catholic Information Service commissioned a booklet dealing with this subject. It was our effort to help those who are looking for truth and love and the assistance of the Church. You can order a copy of Coping with a Suicide: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by emailing or calling the office (firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.752.4267and tell them you saw the ad here) The feelings of sadness which result from the violence of suicide are never removed from the hearts and minds of the survivors even if they try to believe that Auntie is in a better place (a saccharine nosegay that whitewashes the pain temporarily). While the deceased is in the hands of God and clearly live in His mercy, we can never be presumptuous to believe that it is “alright” because “God will deal with it”: the reality life is far more important than me and my own needs. The act of suicide is an act of desperation; the person who does (or thinks of committing the act) acts from feelings of exhaustion, fear, and a false sense of security. Our human response needs to be love. Our response as Christians needs to be one of faithfulness to the Lord who made us and it is He who will call us home, and it is our responsibility to be agents of reconciliation showing mercy and forgiveness.