On April 8, 2021, New Mexico joined eight other states and the District of Columbia in making it legal for doctors to kill their patients.
Of course, the politicians and their media allies would not be so blunt. The Associated Press signaled their approval in glowing language. “Dignity in dying — making the clear-eyed choice to prevent suffering at the end of a terminal illness — is a self-evidently humane policy,” said New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The new law requires that requesting patients must have six months or less to live. Two “medical experts” must agree on the diagnosis. Patients must pass a “mental competency screening.”
Those “safeguards” are not as strong as they might appear. Hospitals and insurance companies often have a vested interest in favor of death, especially when the patient has few financial resources. Medical science cannot determine how long any person will live. The “medical experts” are not necessarily physicians; many are hospital employees. “Screening” is a vague term open to interpretation, as is “mental competency.”
The Situation at Hand
Advocates for “Physician Assisted Suicide” (PAS) promote an illusion. They present the idea that many sane and lucid people suffer needlessly from terminal diseases and thus have lost any “quality of life.” Seeing their situation as hopeless, they want their trusted family physicians to end their lives peacefully and painlessly.
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Nine states plus DC now allow this horrible practice. Thirty-three states declared it illegal. Three states prohibit any form of suicide by common law tradition. In four states, the laws are unclear.
Just like abortion before Roe v. Wade in 1973, PAS is working its way into law. Several organizations are committed to PAS, just as Planned Parenthood is to abortion. Most Catholics were surprised in 1973; this must not happen with PAS now.
The terrain has been prepared by a culture that sees no horror in PAS or suicide. Utilitarians see elderly and infirm people living lives that add no value to society. Socialists extend that logic by questioning the economics of maintaining the elderly who consume resources while contributing nothing. Libertarians and individualists argue that suicide harms no one since each should decide when to live and lie.
A Deadly Serious Discussion
Healthy people often approach death with a kind of flippancy. Statements like “I wouldn’t want to live on dialysis” or “I wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t enjoy myself” are often spoken without any real thought. Such statements condition the mind of the speaker to accept death when suffering enters. They see it as a personal preference that leaves God and His will out of the discussion.
Those tempted to make such statements should consider cases like one related in the article “Making Sense of Bioethics: Talking America Down from the Assisted-Suicide Ledge.”
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“A friend of mine in Canada has struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years. He often speaks out against assisted suicide. Recently, he sent me a picture of himself taken with his smiling grandchildren, one sitting on each arm of his wheelchair. Below the picture, he wrote, “If I had opted for assisted suicide back in the mid-eighties when I first developed MS, and it seemed life as I knew it was over, look what I would have missed. I had no idea that one day I would be head over heels in love with grandchildren! Never give up on life.”
Additionally, such casual statements about death might be used against patients who lose consciousness. Frequent mentions of wanting death over disability might lead a relative to convince doctors that PAS is an option.
The Catholic View
What should an informed Catholic say about PAS? According to the National Catholic Bioethics Center, “The right to life is the first and most fundamental right…. This right is accompanied by a duty to preserve life, for as the person is not free to violate the life of others, he is not free to violate his own life or to give consent to others to do so, as no one is the originator of his own life.”
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The Church teaches that God does not will suicide in any form. The axiom, “Where there is life, there is hope,” is so old that tracing its source is impossible, but it is sound from a moral perspective. To deny hope and embrace despair is to turn away from God.
Catholics know that judgment awaits at the end of earthly life. That judgment will send each person to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. While nobody knows the precise criteria that Our Lord will use in making that judgment, the condition of the soul at the end of earthly life is a primary determinant. In most cases, suicide is an act of despair. In short, suicide is a denial that God can work in His way and time to save the life.
The Church also teaches that suffering is redemptive. When accepted with a spirit of resignation to God’s will, it can purify the soul of the sufferer, alleviating the more intense sufferings of Purgatory. The intercession of one who thus suffers is very powerful in the eyes of God.
The very fact that society is considering such evils as “Physician Assisted Suicide” is a sign of how thoroughly those who hate God have removed him from social consciousness. Catholics must not allow themselves to be swept along with this tide of an increasingly decadent culture.
The Declaration on Euthanasia
In 1980, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued this clarifying statement:
1. No one can make an attempt on the life of an innocent person without opposing God’s love for that person, without violating a fundamental right, and therefore without committing a crime of the utmost gravity.
2. Everyone has the duty to lead his or her life in accordance with God’s plan. That life is entrusted to the individual as a good that must bear fruit already here on earth, but that finds its full perfection only in eternal life.
3. Intentionally causing one’s own death, or suicide, is therefore equally as wrong as murder; such an action on the part of a person is to be considered as a rejection of God’s sovereignty and loving plan. Furthermore, suicide is also often a refusal of love for self, the denial of a natural instinct to live, a flight from the duties of justice and charity owed to one’s neighbor, to various communities or to the whole of society—although, as is generally recognized, at times there are psychological factors present that can diminish responsibility or even completely remove it. However, one must clearly distinguish suicide from that sacrifice of one’s life whereby for a higher cause, such as God’s glory, the salvation of souls or the service of one’s brethren, a person offers his or her own life or puts it in danger (cf. Jn. 15:14).
Rome, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 5, 1980.
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