As we pray and walk together in defense of vulnerable unborn life later this week, we recognize that life at the other end of the spectrum is increasingly threatened as certain extremist groups mount aggressive campaigns to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
Soon, the Maryland General Assembly is expected to consider a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help certain people kill themselves. Last year, the D.C. government enacted such a measure, under a misleading and euphemistic title, which is now subject to congressional review. The media often erroneously describe the issue as “aid-in-dying” or the “right to die,” but do not be misled – such laws are not about allowing people to die, but actively ending life, that is, a license to kill.
What we are witnessing here is an effort to convince people to consider the sick and dying to be a burden to their families and society, and to regard their lives as not worth living. This is of course antagonistic to the God-given dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. The choice offered by assisted suicide is a false compassion lacking true care and concern for the dying, as Pope Francis has noted. Instead of regarding suffering people as disposable and eliminating them, we should accompany them with love and support them with access to better palliative care.
A beautiful example of this truly merciful response to illness and suffering was that offered by Saint Marianne Cope, whose feast day we celebrate today. Following Saint Father Damien, she embraced and provided loving care and hope to the wretched patients who had previously been given only despair by society when they were banished to the leper colony on Molokai.
A broad coalition of disability rights groups, medical associations and faith communities, Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, notes that allowing doctors to legally facilitate a patient’s death would threaten the trusted relationship between physicians and patients. Also, experience in places where assisted suicide is already legal also shows that it would likely not be limited to the terminally ill, but would also endanger the elderly, disabled persons, and people facing depression and non-terminal serious illnesses. Recently, medically-assisted deaths have been given in the Netherlands to a man who struggled with alcoholism, women with depression and post-traumatic stress, and also to children too young to fully comprehend. It has also been argued that mentally ill people should also have the “right” to assisted suicide.
The need to protect human life in many respects has never been greater. Instead of a prescription to kill the sick, we should accompany them in their suffering and offer them love and hope so they know that they are not alone and never a burden. That is the true compassionate choice and a death with dignity.