This November, the citizens of Massachusetts will be asked to cast their vote on the so-called “Death with Dignity Act”.
But the term “death with dignity” brings with it a dark deception. We are, in fact, being asked to vote for or against the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in our state. If passed, a person with a prognosis of six months or less to live would be permitted by law to request from their physician, a prescription for lethal drugs for the purpose of helping them to end their life “in a humane and dignified manner.”
Oregon and Washington are the only states who have legalized physician-assisted suicide to date. They did so by ballot referendum, the same form of enacting the law being attempted in Massachusetts. A ballot referendum essentially by-passes the state legislature and brings the question directly to the ballot for a vote through the gathering of signatures. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide has been attempted in other states too, but interestingly, wherever it has gone through the legislature it has been defeated.
You may recall hearing over the years of a group called the “Hemlock Society” (whose very name connotes death by poison). They are the proponents of physician-assisted suicide or “aid in dying.” But they have changed their name. Now they call themselves “Compassion and Choices,” and they are targeting the northeast. The effort to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide in Massachusetts goes by the name “Dignity 2012.” Regrettably, if our state falls, so goes the rest of the nation.
There are many flaws in the legislation. Predictions of life expectancy can be wrong – people often outlive their prognosis by months or even years. Appropriate safeguards are absent. Many suicides are caused by untreated depression which could be alleviated with the right therapeutic intervention, yet there are no requirements in the law saying doctors must provide this kind of evaluation. The law also does not require that the actual ingestion of the drug be witnessed, nor is there any requirement to record any witnesses who may be present at the death. Moreover, when the patient dies, the death certificate must list the cause of death as the underlying illness, not the effect of the lethal drugs; this provision requires a public record to be falsified.
While most readers of this paper are probably at least somewhat aware of this November ballot question, it appears that many more of our fellow citizens have heard little, if anything, about it. Sadly, the culture in which we live has all too often dulled people’s consciences to the reality of the true dignity and sacredness of each human life. This secularized outlook misleads and confuses. When the value of a human life is measured by its level of productivity, we have truly lost our way.
It’s up to us to make sure our family and friends know the dangers of physician-assisted suicide, which violates the dignity of the dying person and eliminates the opportunity for the many graces that can come from a “good death” where love abounds and peace and reconciliation can flourish. We must work to uphold the integrity of the medical profession whose ability and willingness to provide palliative care and effective pain management can be undermined by authorizing assisted suicide.
In the coming months, the elections will be a hot-topic of conversation. We are called to courageously defend the truth and to proclaim the Good News. Catholic teaching on the dignity of every human person, no matter how compromised their life may appear, is a beautiful teaching indeed. There is nothing good about doctor-prescribed death. We hope that the series of articles on this topic which will appear in this column each week from now through November 2, will serve not only to educate our readers but to help equip them to spread the word as well.
So let’s get started! Whether you’re talking with parents in the schoolyard or the soccer field, conversing with an acquaintance in the checkout line, or chatting with your co-worker at the water cooler or the neighbor across the backyard fence, why not strike up a conversation about the dangers of physician-assisted suicide?
Remember, a society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members, and among its most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying. The law is supposed to protect true human dignity and authentic freedom, not deny it. We thank God for our doctors and nurses who strive always to care, even when medicine cannot cure, and we are called to join them by serving those we love in their last days by offering them true compassion, upholding their God-given dignity, and walking with them in their suffering.
For more information on physician-assisted suicide, including articles, links, parish resources, and upcoming events in the Diocese of Worcester, visit www.worcesterdiocese.org/respectlife.
–– Mrs. LeDoux is the director of the Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Worcester. She holds a certification in Catholic Health Care Ethics from The National Catholic Bioethics Center.
“To Live Each Day with Dignity – A Conference on Dignity, Dangers, and Choices at the End of Life”, will be held on Saturday, October 27 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Assumption College. Speakers include Bishop Robert McManus, Dr. William Toffler, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, and Richard Doerflinger. The conference is sponsored by the Respect Life Office and the Worcester Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. For more information and to register, visit www.worcesterdiocese.org/respectlife or call 508-929-4311.