Background on Assisted Suicide
A movement is under way in New York and around the nation to legalize physician-assisted suicide. These efforts are cloaked behind a purported compassion for those who are nearing the end of life, and typically try to soften their impact by relying on euphemisms like "death with dignity", "aid in dying", and "patient self-determination".
Using terms like "death with dignity" is a shallow attempt to hide what is really going on -- assisting someone to commit suicide. It also insults those whose death from natural causes was not just dignified but even beautiful.
The assisted suicide movement bases its arguments on a falsehood, which distorts the difference between withholding treatment/allowing natural death and intentionally directly bringing about someone's death. But there is a fundamental difference between accepting that nature will take its course and a person will die of natural causes, as against deliberately doing something that will cause a person's death.
When death approaches, there is always some suffering. But we need to address that suffering, and not just give up on the patient. Modern medicine has the ability to relieve almost all cases of physical pain in a terminally ill patient. People who are experiencing the other forms of suffering -- particularly psychological and spiritual pain -- need to be helped with those problems, and not just encouraged to kill themselves. That's why institutions like Calvary Hospital and Hospice are so wonderful, and should be encouraged, because they work to alleviate suffering and respect the dignity of every patient.
Legalizing assisted suicide discriminates against the elderly, handicapped, and isolated. It tells them that their lives are not worth preserving -- a terrible mixed message, since we spend so much time and energy making sure that disabled people are otherwise fully welcomed in our society. It will increase pressure on vulnerable patients to choose death -- people who are poor, lonely, isolated, depressed. In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, very few of those who ask for deadly drugs are even evaluated by a psychiatrist for depression.
The pressure on vulnerable patients will become more and more of a problem as health care resources become more expensive and scarce. We've seen in other countries that once you introduce assisted suicide, the road to euthanasia -- the direct killing of a patient, even without their explicit consent -- is not far behind.
Allowing doctors to help people kill themselves will undermine the doctor/patient relationship. The relationship between a doctor and a patient should be about healing, care, and trust. This fundamentally changes the relationship -- that's why the American Medical Association opposes bill that will have doctors break their promise to "do no harm". Doctors should always be healers, never killers.
Our society spends lots of time and money trying to prevent suicide for teens and depressed people. It makes no sense -- and it will hurt those efforts -- to encourage suicide for elderly and sick people. We've all driven over bridges with signs that discourage people from committing suicide -- the signs say, "Life is Worth Living". Well, life is still worth living, even when you are terminally ill. That's the message we should be saying consistently, and that's why we must resist any attempt to legalize assisted suicide.
Resources on End-of-Life Decisions and Assisted Suicide
The New York State Catholic Conference has created a website, www.CatholicEndofLife.org, which offers many excellent resources to educate people about the morally acceptable options available in making end-of-life decisions in keeping with the teachings of the Church.
You can download a sample Health Care Proxy, with instructions based on Catholic teaching and instructions on how to fill it out, here.
Cardinal Dolan's recent article in NY Daily News can be found here.
The New York State Catholic Conference's position on Assisted Suicide can be found here.
The Patients Rights Council have a helpful Frequently Asked Questions webpage here.
In 1980 the Vatican released a Declaration on Euthanasia.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a number of resources and information on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide here.
The Connecticut Catholic Conference has a great Frequently Asked Questions page including answers about "Is uncontrollable pain the biggest concern of patients who participate in physician assisted suicide?"
Connecticut Catholic Conference's website dontjump.org has a number of videos and information.
Moving video from a man who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and continues to fight instead of choosing Assisted Suicide: Man of Steel.