Tag Archives: doctor-assisted suicide

Killing California

California’s pro-life community has pledged to continue its fight against the state’s new physician-assisted suicide law, which takes effect on June 9.

After falling short on a referendum campaign to overturn the law, efforts will focus mainly on education — although legislative and judicial remedies also are being considered, according to Michael Caspino, president of Legatus’ Orange Canyons Chapter and chairman of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.

Legal challenges

Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Catholic Conference, told Legatus magazine the state’s bishops would like to partner with Catholic hospitals to help people understand why the new law is a mistake. The bishops also launched a website and have been holding workshops.

“We have a lot to do — particularly in this Year of Mercy — to convey how God’s mercy helps us all to approach death and dying as good disciples of the Lord Jesus,” he explained. “It’s one thing for us as pastors to convey to Catholics the values of the Gospel given to us by the Lord Jesus. The other is to persuade Catholics of the importance of bringing those values into the public square.”

Pro-life advocates made an effort to challenge California’s End of Life Option Act — signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October — but had just 90 days to collect 366,000 valid signatures. The effort garnered roughly 250,000 signatures.

“We may have fallen short this time,” Caspino said, “but we put a solid statement out there that we’re serious, and the bishops are serious, and we’re going to continue fighting this law.”

Among the pro-life community’s options are a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution and a legal challenge. Like the referendum, the constitutional amendment would require 366,000 valid signatures, but the coalition would have six months to collect them, Caspino said.

A potential lawsuit would challenge the manner in which the measure was approved as well as whether the state has the right under the state constitution to dictate such a regulation, he added.

Coalition support

Michael Caspino

Michael Caspino

A diverse coalition of California’s bishops and disability, senior, medical and pro-life groups have, from the outset, opposed the law which allows doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs for terminal patients with six months to live.

Megan Schirle, community partner with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund blasted the new law as “so flawed that they put at risk society’s most vulnerable populations.”

Among the group’s primary concerns is that the law contains no requirement for psychological evaluation, psycho-social assessment, or counseling for those seeking physician-assisted suicide. A person seeking to end his or her life because of a terminal diagnosis or prognosis could benefit from treatment, care and social support, she said, adding that many people have survived and thrived well beyond terminal diagnoses or prognoses.

“Depression, fear of becoming dependent, isolated or a burden — all these can occur following any major diagnosis — and they are all treatable,” Schirle said. Under the California law (modeled after Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act), however, “people with depression and other mental illness are neither adequately screened, nor given the care they need when they most need it.”

Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, agreed. In Oregon, one of only five states allowing assisted suicide, out of 859 physician-assisted suicide deaths between 1998 and 2014, only 47 were referred for psychological evaluation.

“People will say you have to alleviate even psychological suffering,” she explained. “To kill the sufferer seems to be the remedy even before doing an evaluation to see what’s going on. When you treat pain and depression, the request [for physician-assisted suicide] goes away, so clearly what we’re seeing is the remedy to address suffering is to kill the sufferer.”

The slippery slope

Bishop Jaime Soto

Bishop Soto said people who support assisted suicide often do so out of a misconstrued perception of liberty — or out of a hesitancy to interfere or offer their own values for another’s benefit. This reluctance to share values, he said, is a misconstrued form of compassion.

“In many cases, it’s becoming a nice way of being indifferent.”

A look at countries and U.S. states that have legalized assisted-suicide laws shows the potential for massive abuse, which pro-life advocates say is taking place behind the statistics.

In 2014, 126 people reportedly died by assisted suicide in Washington State — up by 6% from 119 assisted suicide deaths in 2013 and a 43% increase from in 2012. According to the state’s annual report, doctors wrote 176 lethal prescriptions resulting in 126 assisted suicide deaths, 17 deaths from other causes, 27 deaths from an unknown cause and six people remain alive.

In the Netherlands, up to 23% of the assisted deaths are not reported. In Belgium the percentage of unreported assisted deaths is even higher. Thus, it would not be surprising if 20% of the assisted suicide deaths in Washington State are not reported.

A bill is currently under consideration in New York, but efforts to pass similar measures have failed in Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and Colorado. Internationally, assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Colombia, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada (Quebec).

Hilliard believes that in the U.S., the Brittany Maynard case generated great sympathy for assisted-suicide initiatives. Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer, moved to Oregon in 2014 so she could end her life under that state’s assisted-suicide law.

Assisted-suicide legislation, Hilliard said, is also fueled by contemporary society’s desire for a perfect life — and now a “perfect death” without suffering.

But assisted suicide in other countries has led to a “duty to die” and a slippery slope to more extreme measures. For example, in The Netherlands, Schirle said, doctor-assisted suicide has morphed into involuntary euthanasia for many elderly and disabled people deemed unable to give consent.

The Netherlands allows voluntary euthanasia for children over 12. Although infant euthanasia is technically illegal, charges are not filed where there is “hopeless and unbearable suffering” and, among other things, parental consent.

“In the U.S.,” Schirle said, “we already have legal rights regarding our end-of-life care —including good pain relief and palliative sedation if dying in pain. We should ensure people’s access to these before enacting a law that, while purporting to promote ‘choice’ for the individual, can potentially rob that choice from so many.”

Click on the graphs for larger images.

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: CaCatholic.org/embracing-our-dying


Beware doctor-assisted suicide

BILL DONOHUE says the merchants of death are not just fixated on the elderly . . .

Bill Donohue

Bill Donohue

If there was one strain of political thought that was evident in the November elections, it was libertarianism. As a political philosophy, libertarianism today is roughly what was called liberalism in the 19th century; it is also known as classical liberalism.

Essentially, it maintains that the good society is best served by having a minimal role for government. Liberalism today, of course, favors a big role for government. In the mid-term elections, libertarianism manifested itself as a revulsion against ObamaCare, and other intrusions by the federal government into our lives. The public has become increasingly wary of government busybodies, and this is especially true of young people: Many possess a strong libertarian streak.

Is libertarianism a good thing? When it comes to taming the federal government’s appetite to regulate markets, it is. But when it comes to moral issues, that’s a different story. Take doctor-assisted suicide. Libertarians support doctor-assisted suicide. The government, they argue, has no business telling people they don’t have the right to terminate their own lives. Sounds seductively attractive at first glance: Whose rights are interfered with if someone elects to kill himself? It’s a consensual act, so why should there be any laws against it?

Let’s examine these propositions. Bribery is a consensual act, but we wisely have laws against it. Why? Because the person making the bribe is given an unfair advantage over others; so it really doesn’t matter if the person making the bribe — as well as his happy recipient — like the transaction. Society matters. To be sure, society does not have rights — only individuals do, but it surely has interests. Among them are justice and the general welfare of the people, as outlined in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

It’s true that no one’s rights are being interfered with if someone chooses to kill himself. It’s also true that no one’s rights are interfered with if two men choose to duel to the death in public. Why not allow them to kill themselves — the winner must kill his challenger in order to collect his booty — at Madison Square Garden and show it on pay-for-view TV? The coarsening of our culture that such an exhibition would yield is not something we should encourage. If human life is nothing more than a commodity to be disposed of any way we choose, would we not be going down a dangerous road? The history of the 20th century, especially in Germany, suggests we would be.

The problem with the libertarian position is that it sees individual rights as dispositive of all societal interests. But there is more to the good society than rights. How people treat each other and themselves matters. Moreover, rights are not an end: They are a means. They are a means to liberty. The exercise of rights that intentionally result in the death of a human being is not advancing the cause of liberty; death eliminates the prospects of liberty interminably.

There is another problem with doctor-assisted suicide, namely the doctor. Doctors are trained to save lives, not end them. When we change their mission, we change who they are. Once they become mere instruments, their profession is no longer the same. Consider what has happened in nations where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

Euthanasia has a familiar history. It always starts with putting down the terminally ill, and it never stops there. In this country, at least 70% of those who were killed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian were not dying, and some weren’t even ill. So-called mercy killing is not a slippery slope — it’s a sheet of ice.

It’s a myth that some of the sick are suffering so badly that nothing can be done to stop it. Quite frankly, because of advances in medicine those days are over. The picture of the screaming patient writhing in pain is more than a canard — it’s a cruel demagogic ploy promoted by those who have a vested ideological or financial interest in the budding euthanasia industry.

The merchants of death are not fixated on the elderly; they are quite egalitarian in their pursuits. For example, the cause of infanticide is seriously argued by Nobel Prize winners and Ivy League professors: Parents, they maintain, should have the right to kill their infants. (See page 27 for related story.) Then there are those who may be physically healthy, but are nonetheless hopelessly depressed. They also make fine candidates for an early death.

If we are truly interested in achieving the good society, we need to ask ourselves how the adoption of policies that accelerate the death of innocent human beings facilitates that end.

BILL DONOHUE, Ph.D., is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His new book The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful will be released on March 3.

Is euthanasia the same as murder?

Fr. John Trigilio explains why assisted suicide is contrary to Church teaching . . .

Reverend John Trigilio Jr.

Euthanasia — from the Greek eu thanatos meaning good death — is the intentional and deliberate ending of a human life either by withholding necessary, viable and ordinary treatment (passive euthanasia) or by introducing a substance or procedure that directly causes death (active euthanasia).

Both passive and active euthanasia are considered gravely evil and immoral and in the same moral category as abortion — that is, murder. Murder is the deliberate killing of an innocent person. The fifth commandment actually uses the word “murder,” which is rasah (Hebrew), phoneuo (Greek), and occides (Latin) as found in the original Biblical manuscripts. This means that the commandment literally says, “Thou shalt not murder” and not “Thou shalt not kill.”

Murder can be premeditated, a spontaneous but deliberate deadly assault, or it can be an unlawful killing of a human being without malice. These are all forbidden by the fifth commandment. Equivalent acts would also include any and all unjust killing, such as abortion or euthanasia where death is directly intended and achieved — regardless of the motive or consequences.

Patients are never obligated to endure painful procedures which are worse than their current condition and which do not have a reasonable hope of success. During the Civil War, many soldiers died not from war injuries but from the results of medical procedures like infections from botched amputations. In such cases, refusal of these “extraordinary means” would not be considered euthanasia. Today, however, with the progress of medicine, technology, and rehabilitative treatment, drastic procedures like amputation can be done, and survivors usually live and adapt to their disability.

Dying patients are allowed to be given as much pain medication as their bodies can tolerate as long as the dosage itself does not directly cause death. Too much morphine can stop breathing, whereas monitored amounts can keep a person relaxed and comfortable.

So-called “mercy killing” and the efforts of the Hemlock Society and the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian to make euthanasia socially acceptable are condemned by the Church. God alone should decide when someone leaves this earth — not the patient, doctor, or caretaker. Keeping the dying patient pain-free, comfortable, clean, nourished, and hydrated — and just allowing the natural death process to take its course — is how human beings die with dignity.

Use of a feeding tube or insertion of a tracheotomy are also considered ordinary means and both were administered to Blessed Pope John Paul II a month before his death and one year after he issued a statement clarifying that ordinary means and ordinary medical care (shelter, warmth, and dignified respect) must be given to all patients — even those in a persistent vegetative condition. Ordinary does not mean just what is natural, but includes all modern medical procedures which are typically, routinely and successfully  performed.

Reprinted with permission from “The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions” by Rev. John Trigilio Jr. and Rev. Kenneth D. Brighenti (Sourcebooks, 2007).

Catechism 101

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2277-2279