Bishops Approve Statement Opposing Physician-Assisted Suicide; Call On Catholics To Give Support To The Dying, Ensure Their Legal Protection
To live in a manner worthy of our human dignity, and to spend our final days on this earth in peace and comfort, surrounded by loved ones—that is the hope of each of us. In particular, Christian hope sees these final days as a time to prepare for our eternal destiny.—To Live Each Day with Dignity
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a policy statement on physician-assisted suicide at its Spring General Assembly in Seattle on June 16, 2010. The statement, To Live Each Day with Dignity, passed with a vote of 191-1. It marks the first time the full body of bishops has issued a statement devoted to this issue. The full text of the statement is available online at www.usccb.org/toliveeachday, along with fact sheets and articles on the issue, relevant Church documents, and prayers for use with those who are ill. The statement speaks of the hardships and fears of patients facing terminal illness and the importance of life-affirming palliative care. It cites the Church’s concern for those who are tempted to commit suicide, its 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.
Countering two claims of the assisted suicide movement, that its agenda affirms patients’ “choices” and expresses “compassion” for their suffering, the 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. According to the statement, the practice also undermines patients’ freedom by putting pressure on them to choose death, once society has officially declared the suicides of certain people to be good and acceptable while working to prevent the suicides of others. Undermining the value of some people’s lives will undermine respect for their freedom as well, the statement says, citing countries such as the Netherlands where voluntary assisted suicide has led to involuntary euthanasia. The statement argues that assisted suicide is not an addition to palliative care, 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. It concludes by advancing what Pope John Paul II called “the way of love and true mercy,” and calls on Catholics to work with others to uphold the right of each person to live with dignity.