The nation’s bishops will gather next week in Seattle, Washington for their annual Spring General Assembly. On the docket is a debate and vote on a new document on physician-assisted suicide: To Live Each Day with Dignity.
This will be the first statement on assisted suicide by the full body of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is a timely topic for the bishops as it follows the 1994 legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, as well as a similar law passed in 2008 in Washington State by popular referendum. In Montana, a recent judicial decision was also handed down that declared assisted suicide is not against public policy. In New England, there have also been recent efforts to pass such legislation.
The bishops’ consideration of such an important statement comes just a week after the death of the notorious Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was known as “Dr. Death” for his involvement in killing terminally ill people. Unfortunately, Kevorkian has been lionized by much of the media as a hero for his legacy of death as the media elite continue to support the growing culture of death in our nation. Kevorkian claimed to have assisted in the deaths of 130 people and was convicted of second-degree murder in Michigan for his involvement in the death of a terminally ill person for which he served eight years in prison. The Archdiocese of Detroit issued a statement upon his death and accurately stated: “Left out in much of the commentary on the death of Jack Kevorkian is the sobering and deadly legacy he leaves behind. May God have mercy on his soul and on the scores of confused, conflicted, and, at times, clinically depressed victims he killed.”
The bishops would do well to proclaim their prophetic voice on the right of each person to live with dignity. Their statement addresses the real hardships and fears of patients facing terminal illness and affirms the need and importance of life-affirming palliative care. They take on the fallacious claims of the assisted suicide movement that it somehow affirms “patients’ choices” and “expresses compassion” by asserting the truth that assisted suicide does not eliminate suffering but rather eliminates the patient. History has demonstrated that assisted suicide undermines the respect for a patient’s freedom and dignity and ultimately leads not to voluntary assisted suicide but rather involuntary euthanasia as it has in the Netherlands.
We applaud the USCCB for putting forth their prophetic voice on the dignity of the sick and suffering in To Live Each Day with Dignity. It comes as a welcome counter to the message of the assisted-suicide movement that has continued to gain a foothold in certain areas of our country. In a tragic bit of irony the kind of dignified and compassionate care for the dying called for by Catholic teaching was afforded the late Dr. Kevorkian who had a dignified and natural death in a hospital - something he deprived the allegedly 130 people who came to him desperate for compassion only to be killed with poison with their bodies left in vans and motel rooms. Indeed the time has come to call our nation to commit to authentic compassion and true dignity for the terminally ill, not the false hope and destructive actions offered by the likes of Dr. Death and his allies in the assisted suicide movement.