What if Proposition 106 were written better?

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.

COMING UP: Cancer patient’s wish to become a priest coming true

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Cancer patient’s wish to become a priest coming true

How his suffering could impact his priesthood

Julie Filby
While fighting cancer, Peter Srsich told the Make-A-Wish Foundation of his dream of becoming a priest and to be blessed by then pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. The organization made that wish come true by arranging a private conversation for him with Benedict XVI May 30, 2013 at his general audience at St. Peter’s Square. The pope put his hand on Srsich’s chest to bless him. It was the exact location where the tumor had been. “I hadn’t mentioned where the tumor was,” Srsich said. He also had the opportunity to attend general audiences with Pope Francis last spring and attend the canonization of St. John Paul II in April while studying abroad in Rome for a semester through Regis University.

While fighting cancer, Peter Srsich told the Make-A-Wish Foundation of his dream of becoming a priest and to be blessed by then pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. The organization made that wish come true by arranging a private conversation for him with Benedict XVI May 30, 2013 at his general audience at St. Peter’s Square. The pope put his hand on Srsich’s chest to bless him. It was the exact location where the tumor had been. “I hadn’t mentioned where the tumor was,” Srsich said. He also had the opportunity to attend general audiences with Pope Francis last spring and attend the canonization of St. John Paul II in April while studying abroad in Rome for a semester through Regis University.

While seminary rector Father Scott Traynor has described every man studying for the priesthood as a “mini miracle,” it may be particularly true of Peter Srsich. A little more than three years ago, Srsich, 20, began a fight for his life when he was diagnosed with cancer. Today he reports that he is healthy, happy and in his first year of priestly formation.

“If Peter had his way, he would have entered seminary earlier, but God had a different plan,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote in a recent column.

When finishing his junior year at Mullen High School in May 2011, Srsich didn’t think much of it when he developed a cough. However, when the 6’-6” honor student, lacrosse player, Eagle Scout and Taekwondo black belt began to struggle with exhaustion and “trouble with day-to-day things,” he went for an X-ray. The X-ray revealed a softball-sized tumor in his chest—he had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Because the cancer was so aggressive, it was also treated aggressively, with seven rounds of chemo and 20 days of radiation. From July through November 2011, he spent 65 nights in Children’s Hospital in Aurora. He suffered pain so intense, he sank into depression.

Fast forward to today: a smile rarely left his face as he spent time with classmates on the campus of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Dec. 3.

“My scans have remained clear and we’re two years out now, which is what they had given us as our timeframe we needed to hit,” Srsich told the Denver Catholic Register. “If (the cancer) was going to come back, doctors said it would come back within two years.”

Though he will continue with scans every six months, he is feeling 100 percent, he said, and doctors are “confident it’s not going to be problem in the future.”

When he was struggling physically, there were also moments when he struggled spiritually. During one of his hospital stays, when a friend from Mullen brought him the Eucharist, he was feeling particularly low and had lost interest in his faith.

“I just didn’t even want to see him right there, especially with the Eucharist,” Srsich recalled.

But when he offered the host and said “Body of Christ,” everything changed.

“Jesus came up to me,” Srsich said. “And he didn’t say everything’s going to be OK, he said he’s going to be with me.”

That moment of comfort and conversion, as well as the overall experience and suffering of dealing with cancer, have played a huge role in his spirituality, he said.

“It’s becoming more clear to me where Jesus was,” he said. “And how he can work through suffering.”

“We’re told (by society) suffering needs to be eradicated at all costs, but suffering brought us our redemption,” Srsich continued. “Suffering has a purpose.”

It’s a message he feels called to share, and “God willing,” if he’s ordained one day, it will influence his priesthood.

“Since we do all suffer,” he said, “it’s something people need to hear.”

Srsich described his first four months at St. John Vianney as “incredible.”

“I really love it,” he said. “Cutting distractions (through technology fasts), spending time in prayer and meditation, and living in community. It’s an incredible time to grow closer to Christ, and really helpful for me in understanding my own suffering in the light of Christ.”

Srsich asked for prayer for himself as well as his fellow first-year seminarians.

”It’s a long road,” he added.