Portland Archbishop Affirms Value of Life as Young Woman Prepares Suicide

Fellow Cancer Patients, Including Seminarian, Affirm Life and Suffering Have Meaning

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The archbishop of Portland, Oregon, released this week a pastoral statement on assisted suicide, as a young woman has moved to his diocese so that she can commit suicide under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.

Archbishop Alexander Sample says in the statement that true freedom can only come when «we accept death as a force beyond our control.»

Brittany Maynard, 29, plans to kill herself Nov. 1, a few days after her husband’s birthday, which was Sunday. Diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, she was given six months to live in April, and has used her last months to advocate for an expanse of assisted suicide in more states of the United States.

«I’m dying, but I’m choosing to suffer less,» she told People Magazine, «to put myself through less physical and emotional pain and my family as well.» 

Because of social media, her plight has brought a widespread response from those who are hoping she will decide not to commit suicide. Among them are cancer patients, including Philip Johnson, a 30-year-old Catholic seminarian from the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, who also has terminal brain cancer. 

Johnson wrote an article for the diocesan magazine about his own struggle with cancer and how he is facing it differently than Maynard.

«Like Brittany, I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer the likely outcome of this disease,» he wrote. «I do not think anyone wants to die in this way.  Brittany states relief that she does not have to die the way that it has been explained that she would – she can die ‘on her own terms.’  I have also consulted with my doctors to learn how my illness is likely to proceed.  I will gradually lose control of my bodily functions at a young age, from paralysis to incontinence, and it is very likely that my mental faculties will also disappear and lead to confusion and hallucinations before my death.  This terrifies me, but it does not make me any less of a person.  My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed.  My family and friends love me for who I am, not just for the personality traits that will slowly slip away if this tumor progresses and takes my life.»

«Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take,» Johnson added. «As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others.  Sadly, the concept of ‘redemptive suffering’ – that human suffering united to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation can benefit others – has often been ignored or lost in modern times. «

Below is the full text of Archbishop Sample’s statement.

Death can be a frightening prospect. Coupled with suffering, it can be even more frightening. What is the proper human response in the face of death? How can we find meaning in an earthly existence that ends in death?

Assisted suicide offers the illusion that we can control death by putting it on our own terms. It suggests that there is freedom in being able to choose death, but it fails to recognize the contradiction. Killing oneself eliminates the freedom enjoyed in earthly life. True autonomy and true freedom come only when we accept death as a force beyond our control. Our lives and our deaths belong in the hands of God who created and sustains us. Through the suffering, death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we know that death is not the final word. Eternal life awaits all those who entrust themselves to God.

Life is a gift from God, and we have only one opportunity to live the life we have been given. Every moment of life is precious, and every moment of life worth living.

Assisted suicide sows confusion about the purpose of life and death. It suggests that a life can lose its purpose and that death has no meaning. Cutting life short is not the answer to death. Instead of hastening death, we encourage all to embrace the sometimes difficult but precious moments at the end of life, for it is often in these moments that we come to understand what is most important about life. Our final days help us to prepare for our eternal destiny.

We stand in solidarity with all those who are suffering and dying, and all those who are struggling to find meaning in life. Don’t give up hope! We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion until the sacred moment when God calls you home. And together with you, we look forward to that day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more mourning, no more suffering, and no more death (Rev. 21:4).

May the peace of Christ be with you all. 

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