Amidst passage of physician-assisted suicide law, hope remains

Aaron Lambert

After a long and hard fought battle on the part of the Colorado Catholic Conference and the No on Prop 106 campaign, Colorado voters overwhelmingly voted for the passage of Proposition 106 on Nov. 8.

Proposition 106 passed with 65 percent of the vote, according to early results. The ballot measure is a medical aid in dying measure that will allow adults suffering from terminal illness to take life-ending, doctor-prescribed medication. Colorado joins four other states, including Oregon, California, Washington and Vermont, in having legalized such a measure.

The Archdiocese of Denver was the primary supporter of the No on Prop 106 campaign, promoting the Church’s teachings of recognizing the dignity of all life from conception until natural death. Proponents of the bill described it using language such as “death with dignity,” while opponents coined it physician-assisted suicide.

Colorado Catholic Conference released a statement early Wednesday decrying the decision of Colorado voters to pass the bill into state law.

“The decision the voters of Colorado have made to legalize physician-assisted suicide via the passage of Proposition 106 is a great travesty of compassion and choice for the sick, the poor, the elderly and our most vulnerable residents,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, a grave error, that will alter the lives of generations of Coloradans, has become law.”

Although many who fought against Proposition 106 are upset at the outcome, many others still remain hopeful and devoted to carrying out the Christian witness surrounding the sanctity of life. Following the decision, Divine Mercy Supportive Care, a nonprofit hospice and palliative care provider based in Denver, vowed to continue to operate as a “no-kill provider of hospice and palliative care services.”

“Its decision not to provide life-ending treatment is based on the philosophy of hospice, a 2,000-year history of caring for the sick and dying, as well as an accurate understanding of the emotional and spiritual consequences that physician-assisted suicide creates in patients, family survivors and its employees,” the health care provider said in a statement issued the day after poll results.

Hannah Baird is in her second year of physician assistant school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. As a medical student and a practicing Catholic, she is disappointed by the passage of Proposition 106, but still sees a lot of room for conversation within the medical community regarding this issue.

“I think there’s a lot of dialogue that’s still going to happen about this,” Baird told the Denver Catholic. “Just because it passed doesn’t mean that we’re done fighting. Hopefully the medical community can take a step back and really evaluate what it means to practice medicine.”

Baird has experienced an increasing amount of contention between her Catholic convictions and the world of medicine, but she believes this is all the more reason for a Catholic voice to be involved in the medical world and on issues such as Proposition 106.

“The Catholic perspective is based on good reason and natural law, and the medical world really needs that right now,” she said.

COMING UP: What if Proposition 106 were written better?

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This perspective was written by Peter Srsich, a seminarian currently studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.

Much of the debate around Proposition 106 is about how the bill itself is written. Many of the arguments against it often argue from a standpoint that the proposition is written poorly. I do think that these arguments are clearly true.

It is absolutely crazy that there is no specification as to what type of doctor is qualified to make judgments about the severity of the disease that must be considered terminal within six months. The fact that there is no required psychological evaluation, unless your doctor considers you unstable in some way, leaves the door open to all sorts of problems with who this drug will be administered to (especially considering that many people who are diagnosed with a terminal disease fall into depression at some point during their suffering and in Oregon only 3% were ever referred to a psychologist). And the simple fact that the drug is less effective at actually ending human life than many of the other more popular suicide methods around today are, is frightening considering that the drug which is supposed to end suffering often is a cause of greater suffering.

But what if all of these problems were solved? What if we found some way of guessing the severity of illnesses with 100% accuracy? What if we developed a suicide drug that was actually painless and ended life 100% of the time it was administered? Would Assisted Suicide still be wrong?

As a man who has suffered deeply I say yes, absolutely. At sixteen years old I was diagnosed with stage IV (i.e. life-threatening and malignant) cancer. I underwent nine months of intense chemotherapy and radiation. During my treatment I wished I could have died. In fact the only thing that prevented me from killing myself at one time was the fact I was literally so sick that I lacked the energy necessary to do so. It is because I couldn’t easily take my life then, that I am alive to write this today.

Proposition 106 and other bills like it will give people like me the means to kill themselves quickly and easily in similar situations. This makes me furious. This tells me that my life was not worth living while I was suffering. This tells me that my mother was foolish for sitting by my bedside while I suffered the effects of the drugs I was on and wondered if I would survive them. This tells me that I am worthless because I was weak.

Even more so I am incensed because of the men and women I met while I was in the hospital and those I have met since. The people who are no longer with us. Those whose lives were taken by this disease, or one of the many other horrible diseases that exist in our world. This bill tells them that the last parts of their lives were meaningless. This law and others like it would tell countless parents that their child is better dead than alive, and countless sons and daughters that their parents would be better off without them. Believe me when I say that my mother would rather suffer alongside me forever than to have her son kill himself so as not to be a burden. The families of the many people who have died from this horrible disease and others like it would not trade those last days for anything. It will be no less painful to lose a friend to suicide just because it was a doctor that handed them the pills.

We live in a world where suffering is real but not in one where it needs to be avoided at all costs. We live because we are created and we die because our time eventually comes to leave this world. It does not take a devout adherent of any religious theology to realize that we neither create ourselves nor sustain ourselves in being — why then do we feel we deserve the legal power to remove ourselves from this world?

It is clear to me that I have to vote no on Proposition 106 for many reasons but it makes me angry to think that during this election cycle I will have to vote on a proposition like this. When I read the text of Proposition 106, I, and countless others like me who have suffered greatly, read that our lives are only as valuable as the majority opinion; that if the 50.1 percent say so, the value of my life drops to an expiration date and a price tag. That if life can’t be saved it should be ended.

For those of you who don’t know how to vote on this bill, please believe that it is a fatally flawed measure, and it is our responsibility as citizens striving for the common good to not allow this to become law. If it weren’t for my family, friends, and caretakers who told me my life is worthwhile, I would not be alive today. Consider your friends, consider your family, and please vote “no” on Proposition 106. The lives of us who suffer are not meaningless.