U.S. Bishops to Issue Document on Assisted Suicide

Draft Text to Be Debated During Spring Assembly

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops will debate and vote on a document on physician-assisted suicide at their spring general assembly, which will be held June 15-17 in Seattle.

The document, “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” will be the first statement on assisted suicide by the full body of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“After years of relative inaction following legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in 1994, the assisted suicide movement has shown a strong resurgence in activity,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“This renewed effort has led to the passage of an Oregon-style law in Washington by popular referendum in November 2008, a state supreme court decision essentially declaring that assisted suicide is not against public policy in Montana, and concerted efforts to pass legislation in several New England and Western states,” Cardinal DiNardo continued in a press statement issued by the bishops’ conference.

“The Church needs to respond in a timely and visible way to this renewed challenge, which will surely be pursued in a number of states in the years to come,” he added.

That response will come in the form of the final document to be issued following the bishops’ meeting later this month.

Love and mercy

The text will highlight that “the way of love and true mercy” that John Paul II pointed to in “Evanglium Vitae” is the model for those who offer palliative care. Truly compassionate palliative care means eliminating suffering, not the sufferer, the bishops explained in a statement that summarized the main points of the document.

The issues the bishops will discuss include the hardships and fears of patients with chronic and terminal illnesses, concern for those tempted to commit suicide, the Church’s opposition to physician-assisted suicide, and “the consistency of this stance with the principle of equal and inherent human rights and the ethical principles of the medical profession.”

The bishops will also address arguments of the assisted suicide movement that claim its agenda affirms patient “choice” and expresses “compassion” for suffering.

The bishops’ statement says physician-assisted suicide does not promote compassion because its focus is not on eliminating suffering, but on eliminating the patient. True compassion, it states, dedicates itself to meeting patients’ needs and presupposes a commitment to their equal worth.

The statement says that “compassion” that is not rooted in such respect inevitably finds more and more people whose suffering is considered serious enough for assisted death, such as those with chronic illness and disabilities.

Human Dignity

Patients with terminal illness deserve life-affirming palliative care that respects their dignity and worth. “Assisted suicide is not an addition to palliative care,” the release said, “but a poor substitute that can ultimately become an excuse for denying better medical care to seriously ill people, including those who never considered suicide an option.”         

Citing the example of the Netherlands, the statement points out that voluntary assisted suicide has led to case of involuntary euthanasia.

Also, the statement explains, the practice undermines patients’ freedom by putting pressure on them, once society has officially declared the suicides of certain people to be good and acceptable while working to prevent the suicides of others. Once the worth of a person’s life is diminished, their freedom and autonomy is diminished as well.

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