Cardinal Sean O'Malley Lauds Defeat of Suicide Bill

Boston Prelate Speaks on Responsibility to Protect Weak, Vulnerable Members of Society

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By Ann Schneible

WASHINGTON DC, NOVEMBER 14, 2012 ( In his address to the annual fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley praised the successful efforts to defeat a bill which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide of terminally ill patients in the State of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts’ Ballot Initiative on  physician-assisted Suicide was defeated by a narrow in the November 6 election. The measure would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in the State of Massachusetts for terminally ill patients. The dioceses of Massachusetts joined forces with other religious groups to defeat the proposed law.

Also opposed to the measure where the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Hospice and Palliative Care Federation, and the American Medical Directors Association.
» physician-assisted suicide,» Cardinal O’Malley told the assembly presents a moral and ethical threat to society, the medical profession, the disabilities community and the common good. It brings spiritual death, a cheapening of human life, and a corrupting of the medical profession. During the course of preaching and speaking about this issue, I often cited the Hippocratic Oath of ‘do no harm’.»

Although the measure to legalize assisted suicide was defeated, the Church is nonetheless called to «become more focused on the fact that we must do more to promote good palliative and hospice care at the end of life.»

«The Church has always been committed to compassionate and dignified end of life care,» he said. «We must work with our hospice care and palliative care communities to continue to provide quality of care for the terminally ill. Fear of tremendous pain is advanced as a reason to support physician-assisted suicide.  In almost every instance palliative care can suppress pain.»

The Cardinal also reminded the assembly that «people already have the right to refuse burdensome, life-extending treatments. They also have the option of leaving advance directives to determine their care when they are no longer able to express their wishes. The death that results from withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment has always been separated by a bright line from active measures to cause death.»

«Assisted suicide proponents seek to blur this line,» he said.

Protecting the Weak and Vulnerable

In preventing this measure from being passed, however, the Massachusetts prelate emphasized the importance of providing pastoral and medical care for terminally patients. «Just as in our struggle against abortion, it is not enough simply to condemn abortion, but we need to help to take care of the women whose lives are in turmoil because of a pregnancy. In the same way, we need to reach out to those facing difficulties at the end of life.»

In answer to proponents of the measure who say physician-assisted suicide is an act of compassion towards the suffering, Cardinal O’Malley replied: «We are called to comfort the sick, not to help them take their own lives. As the Catholic Bishops of the United States said in their recent statement on assisted suicide: ‘True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer.'»

Legalized assisted suicide, the cardinal said, could open the door to an array of further abuses, such as a decrease in the quality of life for the elderly and the disabled. There is also concern such a law could lead to an increase in suicide.

«I do not think it is an accident that Oregon, one of two states to legalize  physician-assisted suicide, has one of the highest suicide rates in the United States,» he said.

By opposing the measure, Cardinal O’Malley said, «the Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts opposition to  physician-assisted suicide was not a matter of partisan politics, it was simply the exercising of our right to contribute to the exchange of ideas that the Constitution of the United States guarantees. The Church performs an important service by weighing in on moral and ethical issues.»

«We are all called to work for a more just society where the weak and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected.»

The cardinal concluded: «We will be judged by how we treat those who are ill and the infirm. They need our care and protection, not lethal drugs. Let us work together to build a civilization of love – a love which is stronger than death.»

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