"How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love." - BLESSED TERESA OF CALCUTTA

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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: U.S. Bishops’ Policy Statement on Assisted Suicide

 

Today, however, many people fear the dying process. They are afraid of being kept alive past life’s natural limits by burdensome medical technology. They fear experiencing intolerable pain and suffering, losing control over bodily functions, or lingering with severe dementia. They worry about being abandoned or becoming a burden on others.

Our society can be judged by how we respond to these fears. A caring community devotes more attention, not less, to members facing the most vulnerable times in their lives. When people are tempted to see their own lives as diminished in value or meaning, they most need the love and assistance of others to assure them of their inherent worth.

The healing art of medicine is an important part of this assistance. Even when a cure is not possible, medicine plays a critical role in providing “palliative care”—alleviating pain and other symptoms and meeting basic needs. Such care should combine medical skill with attention to the emotional as well as spiritual needs of those facing the end of life. Continue reading “To Live Each Day with Dignity: U.S. Bishops’ Policy Statement on Assisted Suicide”

 


 

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Dewane Letter in Support of Sense of Congress Resolution Against Assisted Suicide

September 27, 2017

We write in strong support for H. Con. Res. 80 introduced by members from both sides of the aisle, those who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves conservative. This issue truly spans both parties and all political persuasions, highlights the serious risks and dangers of assisted suicide and calls on the Federal Government to reject the practice and to ensure that persons facing the end of their life have access to high quality and comprehensive health care.

The bi-partisan nature of this resolution, which also has strong support from the disability-rights community, underscores the serious risks of abuse and coercion posed by assisted suicide on those who are poor, elderly, disabled, members of marginalized groups, or without access to good medical care.

Legalizing assisted suicide undermines attempts to treat the true underlying causes of suicide requests, and will result in deaths that are not truly voluntary or consensual. Many people who are not terminally ill will also die, including persons who could live a long and productive life with appropriate medical treatment. Assisted suicide reflects a bias against persons with disabilities, serious illness and the elderly, facilitating an environment in which their destruction is deemed preferable to compassionately addressing their health problems. It undermines efforts to ensure that pain relief is available to all who need it, causing even greater pain and suffering to terminally ill patients and their families. Read more

Bishop Murphy Encourages Faithful To Oppose Legislation Promoting Assisted Suicide

March 3, 2015

Catholics in the State of New York, particularly those in our Diocese, should be very alarmed by
movements promoting assisted suicide legislation. We must work together to educate, inform and encourage our people to engage actively in pushing back any legislation which compromises the gift of life. Read the entire letter here: Assisted Suicide Legislation

Bishop Murphy Urges Education about Assisted Suicide Issues

Bishop’s Blog, www.licatholic.org, January 13, 2016

 

Here in New York we are facing a well financed and well organized campaign to legalize assisted suicide in our state.

Did you know that already there is proposed legislation  in the Senate and the Assembly — S.5814/A.5261-B and S.3685/A.2129-A – that would do just that?

It is urgent that all people of good will, particularly the leaders of the ministries and offices of our parishes, understand the issue of assisted suicide and understand the Church’s guidance and teaching that respects all life from the moment of conception through natural death.  Read the complete blog here.

The New York State Catholic Conference Memorandum of Opposition

A.2129, Rosenthal: In relation to legalizing physician-assisted suicide

The above-referenced bills would add a new section of the Public Health Law to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the express purpose of ending a patient’s life.

The New York State Catholic Conference opposes these bills for the reasons outlined below.

Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would:

Blur longstanding medical, moral and legal distinctions between withdrawing extraordinary medical assistance and taking active steps to destroy human life. One lets people die a natural death; the other is the deliberate and direct act of hastening death.
Undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever alter the doctor-patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life. Patients are best served when medical professionals, together with families and loved ones, provide support and care with dignity and respect, not lethal doses of drugs. The American Medical Association holds a policy position against physician-assisted suicide, which they say is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role” and would be “difficult or impossible to control.”
Lead to psychological, financial and other pressures for vulnerable persons to end their lives. In today’s era of health care rationing and cost-cutting, physician-assisted suicide could easily rise to the level of the most acceptable, and even expected, “treatment” for terminal illness. In 1994, Governor Mario Cuomo’s Task Force on Life & the Law released a report unanimously rejecting assisted suicide, and cautioned: “No matter how carefully and guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterizes the delivery of services in all segments of society, including health care. The practices will pose the greatest risks to those who are poor, elderly, members of a minority group or without access to good medical care. The growing concern about health care costs increases the risks. This cost consciousness will not be diminished, and may well be exacerbated, by health care reform.”
Rather than assisting suicide, government should be consistent in its efforts to prevent suicide. It is illogical for the state to promote/facilitate suicide for one group of persons — calling the suicides of those with a terminal illness and a specific prognosis “dignified and humane,” while recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances, and spending enormous resources to combat it.

Tremendous strides are being made by our state in suicide prevention, as evidenced by the State Office of Mental Health’s suicide prevention projects, anti-bullying campaigns in the schools, suicide awareness training in prisons, and even extra safety precautions on bridges to discourage those feeling hopeless and depressed. These efforts, and their consistent message that “Life Is Worth Living,” are undermined by this legislation.

Moreover, the double standard established by these bills is based entirely on disability. Those who are “terminal,” predicted to die within six months, either are, or will become, disabled. They will likely lose their ability to do many of the things they formerly did and will need assistance in daily living. Offering this group of persons suicide assistance, rather than suicide prevention, is discrimination based on disability.

We urge the state to remove barriers and improve access to palliative care and hospice care for those in the final stages of terminal illness. Improved education and training of physicians in pain management, together with appropriate diagnosis and treatment for depression, would go a long way toward eliminating calls for suicide among the sick and the dying.

We strongly urge you to oppose these bills.
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Memorandums of Opposition on Assisted Suicide – New York State Catholic Conference

S.3685, Savino / A.2129-A, Rosenthal; S.5814-A, Bonacic / A.5261-C, Paulin: In relation to legalizing physician-assisted suicide

Published on January 22nd, 2016

Downloadable PDF version of this memo HERE.

The above-referenced bills would add a new section of the Public Health Law to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the express purpose of ending a patient’s life.

The New York State Catholic Conference opposes these bills for the reasons outlined below. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would:

  • Blur longstanding medical, moral and legal distinctions between withdrawing extraordinary medical assistance and taking active steps to destroy human life. One lets people die a natural death; the other is the deliberate and direct act of hastening death.
  • Undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever alter the doctor-patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life. Patients are best served when medical professionals, together with families and loved ones, provide support and care with dignity and respect, not lethal doses of drugs. The American Medical Association holds a policy position against physician-assisted suicide, which they say is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role” and would be “difficult or impossible to control.”
  • Lead to psychological, financial and other pressures for vulnerable persons to end their lives. In today’s era of health care rationing and cost-cutting, physician-assisted suicide could easily rise to the level of the most acceptable, and even expected, “treatment” for terminal illness. In 1994, Governor Mario Cuomo’s Task Force on Life & the Law released a report unanimously rejecting assisted suicide, and cautioned: “No matter how carefully any guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterizes the delivery of services in all segments of society, including health care. The practices will pose the greatest risks to those who are poor, elderly, members of a minority group or without access to good medical care. The growing concern about health care costs increases the risks. This cost consciousness will not be diminished, and may well be exacerbated, by health care reform.”

Maintain a Ban on Assisted Suicide

Published on November 6th, 2015

Printable version: Maintain Ban on Assisted Suicide | Additional resources

Summary

New York’s current law prohibits assisting in suicide by anyone, including doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to end the lives of terminally ill patients who wish to die. This law was challenged in 1994 and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Vacco vs. Quill in 1997.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in the New York Legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and they are equally dangerous. In addition, a new lawsuit has been filed by an assisted suicide advocacy organization to overturn New York’s ban. The 2014 assisted suicide death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to secure a physician’s help to commit suicide, has renewed efforts across the country to legalize this practice.

Conference Position

The Catholic Conference seeks to maintain New York State’s current prohibition on assisted suicide while ensuring increased support, resources, palliative and hospice care, appropriate pain relief and treatment for the terminally ill.

This issue paper is available in PDF form HERE.

  • TAKE ACTION NOW at the NYSCC Catholic Action Network to oppose assisted suicide legislation in New York State.
  • New York State Catholic Conference
  • New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide is an informal association of many diverse organizations, institutions, agencies and individuals in New York State committed to preventing the legalization of assisted suicide in the state. They include representatives of the following communities: disability rights, patients’ rights, health care, hospice care, civil rights, senior rights and various faith-based advocacy organizations.

Assisted suicide legislation is bad medicine for all New Yorkers

Several bills have been introduced in New York State that would fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship by authorizing physician-assisted suicide for individuals declared by a doctor to be terminally ill. Like similar bills that have passed in several other states, New York’s bills lack important safeguards, making coercion or misapplication of the law a serious threat. Furthermore, they send a dangerous message to society that when someone is considered a “burden” to someone else, his or her life is no longer worth living. While New York rightly spends millions of dollars a year to combat suicide, it is considering undermining these efforts significantly by declaring that oftentimes, suicide is “death with dignity.” The not-so-subtle implication is that those who choose to fight for their lives or to simply allow themselves to die a natural death are somehow undignified.

The New York State Catholic Conference has joined other opponents as part of the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, made up of patients-rights, disabilities-rights advocates, health care, civil rights and faith-based advocacy organizations. Together we support increased access to palliative care (comfort care) and a rejection of the dangerous national movement toward physician assisted suicide.

Life Issues Forum: Some Good News in the Battle Against Assisted Suicide

By Greg Schleppenbach
SEPTEMBER 22, 2017

The movement to legalize doctor-assisted suicide has been gaining momentum in recent years. Since 2015, two states (California and Colorado) and the District of Columbia have joined Oregon, Washington State and Vermont in legalizing the deadly practice. And 28 states had assisted suicide bills introduced in 2017 with a handful coming very close to succeeding. Compassion & Choices, the leading assisted suicide proponent, has a well-organized and well-funded agenda that has been very effective in leading these efforts.

So, where’s the good news you may be asking?

Let’s start with those 28 states that had bills introduced to legalize assisted suicide. With almost all of these states’ legislatures having finished their work for 2017, not a single bill has succeeded so far. This success is largely due to the extraordinary work of broad based and bi-partisan coalitions that include disability-rights, medical, elder, minority, faith-based and pro-life groups.

What’s more, the only assisted-suicide-related legislation to succeed this year either prohibits or limits the practice. Alabama, for example, enacted a ban on the practice. Arizona enacted conscience protections for medical professionals (should the practice ever be legalized there). Read More

Life Issues Forum: The True Face Of Assisted Suicide

By Richard M. Doerflinger
FEBRUARY 26, 2016

Since California legalized assisted suicide last year for people diagnosed as terminally ill, the former Hemlock Society — now a multi-million-dollar operation called “Compassion & Choices” or C&C — has stepped up efforts to pass similar laws in other states. At the center of its campaign is the late Brittany Maynard, an attractive 30-year-old cancer patient who moved to Oregon to obtain a lethal drug overdose prescribed by a physician. Her husband is now a paid spokesperson for C&C.

Recently the state of Oregon released its 2015 figures on assisted suicide deaths, indicating how C&C’s portrayal compares to the reality.

State-sanctioned suicides in Oregon keep rising. There were 105 deaths in 2014 (44% higher than the previous year) and 132 in 2015 (another 26% higher). In each of these years, exactly one patient was under 35 years old (that must have been Ms. Maynard herself in 2014). Last year, 78% of those obtaining lethal drugs were aged 65 and over, with a median age of 73. Most were women; most had no health insurance, or only government insurance; most had no living spouse or registered domestic partner.  More than 96% received no psychological evaluation, to test for depression or other conditions that can lead to suicidal thoughts.

C&C presents its agenda as a boon to autonomous people who live life on their own terms and want to exit life the same way to avoid intractable pain. The usual reality is different. When asked why they were obtaining the drug overdose, 96% of patients said they were less able to engage in activities that make life enjoyable; almost as many said they were losing their autonomy or their dignity; about half said they had become a “burden” on family or caregivers. Fewer than 30% cited any concern about pain.  Incidentally, 90% died in a private home (their own or that of relatives or friends), allowing an educated guess as to who they were “burdening” and who was present to “assist” their final act — in 79% of cases no health professional was present. Read more

Further Articles

Columns

Does Assisted Suicide Equal Death with Dignity?

by Msgr. Donald Hanson
Pastor, Most Holy Trinity, East Hampton

 

Msgr. Donald Hanson

You have most likely read or heard about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old, newly married woman who was diagnosed with a malignant and inoperable brain cancer. She chose to end her life by a deliberate overdose of barbiturates prescribed by her doctor in Oregon, one of five states where assisted suicide is legal. She decided to make her choice public on social media and became part of a public campaign to influence acceptance of “death with dignity.”

Brittany’s story is a very sad one and we cannot but feel sorrow, not only for her, but for her husband and her family as well. But there are underlying values and assumptions here which need to be teased out and evaluated. Is suicide in this way really “death with dignity”? Is this an ethical decision which society should welcome and embrace? Clearly from a Catholic standpoint it is not. But why? Isn’t this just the Catholic Church standing in the way of progress and compassion once again? I think not, and here is why.

Life is a gift. It is infinitely precious and valuable. This is true whether we are born perfectly formed, incredibly talented and stunningly handsome, or whether we come into this world with some disability, whether physical, mental, or otherwise. We are God’s creation and each of us is a miracle.

That also means that we are not our own. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1Co 6:19-20 NABre). And again in Romans: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8 NABre) That reality is something which secular culture does not understand and does not accept, yet it is a central part of our faith. It is more than just that God forbids suicide (which God does), but why God does: Because we are God’s; life is God’s gift. We—in all our imperfection—are an expression of God’s love.

Although I feel sympathy for Brittany I also recognize that this is part of a marketing effort organized by pro-suicide groups. Be attentive! Doctors, for the most part, do not want to be a part of this. It directly contradicts their calling to be healers. Nor is this a private matter; it has immediate social effects. But our highly individualized contemporary American culture doesn’t support that either. The libertarian view sees everyone as completely autonomous and given freedom not to be limited by anyone. That is not the Christian view. We belong to one another. We were made to be in community and fellowship. We are the body of Christ. The common good is a treasured part of our political and spiritual heritage. Extreme individualism is one of the poisoned pills our culture is handing out to us.

End of life issues—as also beginning of life issues—have been made more complex because of technology. Ethical reflection has a hard time keeping pace with new scientific capabilities. But Christian ethics insists always on the dignity of the human person. Catholic moral teaching has always held that we are not obliged to take extraordinary means to prolong life. Important advances in palliative care (keeping terminal patients pain-free) and the hospice movement have reduced the physical, psychological and spiritual pain of death and dying. Human life is not a consumer commodity to be thrown away when it is less than optimal. Death is part of life; not a taboo. Were we to think, feel, say or act as if there was no value or meaning to death, we would be abandoning Christ on the cross. Jesus “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (Jn 13:1 NABre) And that “end” was when he bowed his head on the cross and gave up his spirit.

Respect life. Pray for and visit the sick and suffering. Accompany the dying. Like Jesus, “love them till the end.”

Talking Points – for brief bulletin ads and pastor’s columns

  • The term “death with dignity” is insulting and biased. There is nothing remotely undignified about the natural process of death. Every human life has inherent dignity, and death is a part of every human life. Death is not a “choice.” Death is a certainty.
  • This is a dangerous movement. New York State rightly spends millions of dollars every year in efforts to combat suicide. If you cross any major bridge in this region, you will see a sign that says “Life Is Worth Living.” We have anti-bullying campaigns and suicidehotlines, suicide hotlinessuicide. And now we’re turning around and saying, “Well, some lives are not worth living.” This double standard is based entirely on disability, as patients fear “losing autonomy” or “being a burden” due to their disabilities.
  • If we legalize assisted suicide, the pressure on people to end their lives will dramatically rise. People with terminal illnesses will feel as though they need to “get out of the way” and not drain financial resources. They will inevitably get pressure, subtle or not so subtle, from relatives, health care providers, insurers. They will be made to feel as though the very fact that they are drawing breath is an inconvenience to someone else.
  • The legislation that has been introduced in New York State lack safeguards for vulnerable people. There is no requirement for counseling, there is a lack of informed consent, there are loopholes which allow for coercion and undue influence by others, and there are insufficient conscience protections for hospitals and health providers.
  • Pain control has come so far. If we’re going to support something, let’s support increased education in pain management for all health professionals, education in palliative care, and removing barriers to hospice care. We should focus on ending the suffering, not ending the life of the sufferer. Kill the pain, not the patient.
  • The NYS Catholic Conference has a new website and video to inform Catholics of our teachings about the end of life. www.CatholicEndofLife.org The Catholic Church does not teach that life must be preserved by any and all means. Extraordinary means are not necessary when death is near; people must be allowed to die naturally. But we can’t intentionally take their lives or help them to intentionally hasten their death.
  • Legislation in support of Assisted Suicide has been recently introduced into the both houses of the New York State legislature. Education, prayer, advocacy and references for care and services that support life from the moment of conception to natural death are needed now more than ever to promote and defend the sanctity of all life. Please see resources and recent media in support of life and end of life issues that can be shared and voiced in homilies, though chaplaincy, parish committees, ministries, schools, religious education programs, parish outreach and diocesan entities. Workshops and meetings can also provide time for video and dialogue. Providing the foundational understanding of the dignity of the human person through all phases of life promotes a culture of life, and love of one another. Letter – Assisted Suicide Legislation
  • Fatal Flaws in Assisted Suicide Legislation Fact Sheet
  • Flyer/Bulletin Insert – New York State Catholic Conference
  • TAKE ACTION NOW at the NYSCC Catholic Action Network to oppose assisted suicide legislation in New York State. 

The Diocese of Rockville Centre recently held an educational conference on  Opposition to Assisted Suicide designed to educate diocesan leadership on the moral, medical, legal and legislative dangers of physician-assisted suicide. Newly proposed legislation on assisted suicide has been introduced in the New York State Legislature. This two-part Telecare special includes highlights from the conference.

Assisted Suicide Education Conference Video Part 1

If you are having trouble viewing video click here.

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Assisted Suicide Education Conference Video Part 2

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Conference Presentations

Luke’s Story

You don’t discourage suicide by assisting suicide. “Every suicide is tragic – whether you’re old or young, healthy or sick, your life is worth living,” says Luke Maxwell, 19, who survived an attempt to take his own life.

Cecelia’s Story

Cecilia Soñe, a nurse practitioner, says that legalizing assisted suicide sends the false message that some lives are worth caring for and others are not. Watch to learn how she went into medicine to help heal patients, not to help kill them!

John’s Story: Beyond Independence

Born without arms, John Foppe speaks to a way of life beyond independence, namely inter-dependence: Together we are more. Assisted suicide sells everyone short, so in times of illness or disability, he encourages us to “step into life!”

Jeanette’s Story: 15 Years Later

In 2000, when Oregon resident, Jeanette Hall, had less than a year to live, she asked her cancer doctor for the pills to commit suicide. Dr. Kenneth Stevens got to know her better and inspired her to consider treatment. The tumor just “melted away” and now — 15 years later — Jeanette says: “It’s great to be alive!”

Maggie’s Story

Maggie Karner, 51-yr-old mother of three, has terminal brain cancer and opposes assisted suicide. She shares how her dad, when bedridden at the end of his life as a quadriplegic, taught her to face life & her final days with true grace and dignity.

Maggie Karner passed away on September 25, 2015, after living with brain cancer for a year and a half. She is survived by her husband and three daughters, who were by her side when she passed peacefully.

For more videos on Assisted Suicide visit the USCCB