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Panelists oppose physician-assisted suicide

Posted By September 13, 2012 | 12:59 pm | Local
By Tanya Connor GRAFTON – If the lifeguard helped people drown, would you want him watching your children? If Massachusetts voters pass physician assisted suicide in November’s election, it will become legal in the state. These scenarios, the first one imagined, the second really pending, were presented in a panel at St. James Parish Center Sept. 5. The Pro-Life and Adult Faith Formation ministries of the Grafton Catholic community sponsored the presentation. Father Edward J. Hanlon, St. James’ pastor, and Father Kenneth R. Cardinale, pastor of St. Mary and St. Philip parishes, participated.

By Tanya Connor

GRAFTON – If the lifeguard helped people drown, would you want him watching your children?
If Massachusetts voters pass physician assisted suicide in November’s election, it will become legal in the state.
These scenarios, the first one imagined, the second really pending, were presented in a panel at St. James Parish Center Sept. 5.
The Pro-Life and Adult Faith Formation ministries of the Grafton Catholic community sponsored the presentation. Father Edward J. Hanlon, St. James’ pastor, and Father Kenneth R. Cardinale, pastor of St. Mary and St. Philip parishes, participated.
Panelists were Paul Carpentier, M.D., president of In His Image Family Medicine in Gardner; Msgr. Peter R.  Beaulieu, director of mission integration and pastoral care at St. Vincent Hospital; Atty. Henry Luthin, acting president of the board of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, and Allison LeDoux, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office.
Three of the panel members gave similar talks at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Milford in April. Dr. Charpentier replaced John Howland, the doctor who spoke in Milford. Organizer Julie Koss-Stephany said Grafton Catholics heard the Milford panel was successful, and decided to bring it here.
Dr. Carpentier imagined that if the state legalized assisted drowning and Lifeguard Smith helped swimmers drown, a parent might wonder, “Is he really going to look out for my kids’ best interest?”
Before the Hippocratic Oath, the sick went to the medicine man if they dared; he might give them a lethal potion or a remedy, Dr. Carpentier said. But, he said, once doctors refused to give deadly medicine, patients were more willing to go to them. Then doctors started figuring out more things and sharing them with colleagues, improving patient care.
In 1920 Germany was the medical care center of the world, and medical people decided they knew who should live or die, Dr. Carpentier said.
“It was the psychiatrists in Germany that invented the gas chambers, not the Nazis,” he said. The Nazis figured, “Why can’t we do the same?”
“Once we legalize assisted suicide” insurance companies will see it as a way to solve financial problems, Dr. Carpentier said. Instead, he called for being there for patients, trying to relieve pain and keep them alert.
Msgr. Beaulieu said the Church provides a wonderful vision; life is not human beings’ possession; they are stewards of God’s gift. Suffering and death are not God’s will, not part of his original plan. Death is unavoidable, but opens the way to new life.
In summarizing moral theology, Msgr. Beaulieu pointed out the significance of human beings’ actions and intentions.
The Catholic Church is reasonable, wanting patients to have every reasonable chance to recover, he said. It considers ordinary treatment mandatory, but not extraordinary treatment.
Atty. Luthin suggested that Catholics, in their health care proxy forms, restrict their agent’s ability to refuse them ordinary medical treatment and food and water (whether administered naturally or artificially). Food and water are considered medical treatment under Massachusetts law, he said. (With proxy forms, the “agent” is the person a “principal” designates to make medical decisions for him if he becomes incompetent to do so.)
Atty. Luthin said if Massachusetts voters approve the “Death with Dignity Act,” physician assisted suicide will go into the books immediately and there will be no amending it.
He said it calls for a terminal patient to ingest the lethal dose – 100 pills – of which he showed a picture. But it doesn’t say the patient must take the pills himself.
Missing from the information the doctor must give the patient is any mention of treatment for the underlying condition, he said. But, he said, the death certificate is to list that disease as the cause of death, which requires falsifying the record. No witnesses would be required and no record kept of who was present when the patient took the lethal dose.
The doctor would refer the patient for counseling only in the case of depression or a psychological or psychiatric disorder, he said. And the incompetent would likely be subjected to physician assisted suicide because, under Massachusetts law, they have the same rights as the competent.
To illustrate how the proposed law might work, he imagined “the humane and dignified death of Uncle Charlie.” His nephew and heir assures the doctor that the terminally ill elder who is unable to speak wants to die.
Mrs. LeDoux reiterated Catholic beliefs about treatment. She suggested getting a second or third opinion, the right ethical advice, spiritual care and a palliative care specialist when needed.
She called for seeing that one’s proxy form conforms with the faith, and suggested telling one’s family and friends about it, and having copies on the refrigerator, in the computer and at the doctor’s office.
She also suggested ways parishioners can help the homebound and their caregivers. They might bring a meal, give the caregiver a break, or help the sick feel part of the community and find a purpose for their suffering by asking their prayers about physician assisted suicide.
To help defeat this, pastors have been given materials, Mrs. LeDoux said. She encouraged listeners to offer to help their pastors, organize a rosary or holy hour and talk to families, friends and parents on the soccer field.
“Vote no on Question 2,” she said. “It’s OK to say that.” She said they can explain what a “no” vote means, and referred to available materials. It’s not just a religious argument, she said; the bill is bad for society and other groups are also opposing it.
She also encouraged listeners to participate in online polls, write letters to the editor, and call in to radio programs.
“Public opinion is not in our favor, so we’re going to need to work hard in the next few months,” she said. “We can offer people hope.”