Editor: With the many recent advances in medical treatments and medicines, morality in medical care can become confusing. However, as the United States Bishops said in their document of June, 2011, To Live Each Day with Dignity, it is quite clear that: "We should ensure that the families of people with terminal illnesses will never feel they have been left alone in caring for their needs. The claim that the ‘quick fix’ of an overdose of drugs can substitute for these efforts is an affront to patients, caregivers, and the ideals of medicine."
With that in mind, we offer the succinct comments of the Diocese of Fall River contained in its recent brochure concerning this issue which issue will be voted on by the members of the State of Massachusetts in their November, 2012 elections.
Physician-assisted suicide is suicide…and suicide is always a tragedy. We are called to comfort the sick not to help them end their lives!
On Election Day in November, 2012, the people of Massachusetts will likely be asked to accept or reject the so-called "Death with Dignity" Act. If passed, it will allow an adult resident of Massachusetts, deemed to have the capacity to make health care decisions, and determined by two physicians to have a disease that will likely result in death within six months, to request and receive a prescription for a lethal drug that he or she may self-administer.
What is Physician-Assisted Suicide?
Physician-Assisted Suicide is deliberately and intentionally providing an individual with a lethal drug to commit suicide.
In what states is it legal?
In 1994, Oregon voters made assisted suicide into a "medical treatment." In 2008, voters in Washington did the same. Physician-Assisted Suicide is still a crime in 44 states. Now, Massachusetts has been targeted as THE next state where assisted suicide will become legal.
How will the Massachusetts law work?
Two witnesses need to say that the patient is capable, acting voluntarily, and is not being coerced. The prescription must be dispensed to the person or his agent. The law does not require witnesses at the death and states that the person must self-administer the drug. When the patient dies, the death certificate must list the cause of death as the underlying illness, not the effect of the lethal drugs.
What are some of the flaws in the proposed law?
•A person who stands to inherit the dying person's estate together with a stranger can be witnesses to the request. Or two strangers can be the witnesses.
•Relatives need not be informed that a patient has requested lethal drugs.
•The law does not require that the ingestion of the drug be witnessed.
Why should I oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide?
•The Catholic Church and all major religions have always taught that assisted suicide is wrong because it is contrary to the good of the human person.
•The American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the Massachusetts Medical Society oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide.
•Advances in pain management and palliative and hospice care make it possible to treat pain and to give the dying patient many choices.
•The role of the physician is to provide care appropriate to the condition of the patient, not to assist patients in controlling the timing and manner of their death.
•Loss of autonomy and control, not untreated pain, are the reasons given by patients in Oregon for seeking assisted suicide. Medicine has ways of successfully addressing these problems.
How will patient rights and health care change as a result of legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide?
•The law will define a class of people for whom suicide should be facilitated rather than prevented on the basis of a terminal diagnosis. In some cases terminal diagnoses are unreliable.
•Concerns about health care costs, plus financial uncertainty, may lead to pressure patients who are disabled or chronically ill to request lethal drugs. Dutch doctors once limited euthanasia to terminally ill patients; now they provide lethal drugs to people with chronic and mental illness, disabilities, and even to children.
•Allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs is a corruption of the healing art and violates the very oath that has guided physicians for millennia: "I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan."
Bishop George W. Coleman, Bishop of Fall River, says: "Our beliefs concerning the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus help guide our decisions about the way we care, preserve, and use our human lives for the glory of God."
A PRAYER FOR COMFORT AND HOPE UNTO ETERNAL LIFE
We praise you, Lord, today for the gift of life. Teach us to live according to your will. Prepare us for the end of our days and weeks by opening our eyes to the reality of death and the calming of our hearts of their fears and anxieties. Help us to be compassionate to those we know who are sick and dying. Show us how to give them loving care. Protect the dying and preserve the dignity and rights of those who will soon die. Welcome these children into your life, with you. Bestow on all of us the grace to give comfort and hope unto eternal life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.