Colorado needs more compassionate care, not killing

Archbishop Aquila

In August 1997, I was in the oncologist office with my mother and her doctor. The doctor shared with us that my mother had cancer in her brain, lungs, and liver and while there was some possibility to prolong her life, her prognosis was she would die in a few months. On our way out, the doctor pulled me aside and said, “Your mother will be dead by December. I don’t know how she is doing so well with the extensiveness of the cancer.” She celebrated her 75th birthday in December at a large gathering of family and friends and was still driving. She didn’t die until June 1998.

On August 15, an initiative that will legalize physician-assisted suicide was officially certified to appear as an initiative on the Colorado ballot. Proposition 106 must be opposed because it will open the door for people in situations like my mother’s to kill themselves based off of guesses made by doctors that are often wrong. Having assisted suicide in our state will also create a culture that discourages advances in compassionate palliative and hospice care, and crucially, it will shorten the window for God’s grace to act as people prepare to meet their maker.

In Colorado, we pride ourselves on the natural beauty of our state and our care for the environment. People from other states also remark on how welcoming, warm and caring Coloradans are. These are good and praiseworthy values of which we can be proud. But if Proposition 106 is approved, it will engrain much different, more inhumane values in our culture, and help spread them to other states by giving momentum to assisted suicide advocates.

Aside from the moral problems associated with physician-assisted suicide, the ballot measure has serious flaws in the way it’s written. In order to qualify for assisted suicide, for instance, a person must receive a diagnosis that they are suffering from a terminal illness and have six months or less to live. But as the case of my mother shows, how often are those diagnoses wrong? Most of us know people who outlived a fatal diagnosis by months or years, and in some rarer cases doctors misdiagnose their patients completely.

Proposition 106 also requires that a physician certify that the person requesting assisted suicide be of sound mind. What the measure does not specify is that the certifying doctor be trained in psychology. That means that any doctor may carry out the assessment – even a podiatrist or audiologist. There is nothing in the initiative that would prevent a doctor who is untrained in psychology from missing the cues that a person is depressed and needs treatment, not an overdose of lethal drugs.

The way the assisted suicide ballot measure handles the act of a person killing themselves also demonstrates how contrary its values are to those of Coloradans. To begin with, even though the overdose doesn’t always work, Proposition 106 does not require a medical professional to be present for the death. It also shuns accountability by mandating that physicians or coroners lie on the death certificate and say that the person died of the disease from which they were suffering. Should this become law, the state will be supporting the “father of lies,” sweeping under the carpet the reality of what is happening.

The most important shortcoming of Proposition 106 is that it treats human life as something that can be discarded, like an appliance that has outlived its use. Human beings are vastly more valuable than that, and our dignity does not depend on our ability to perform functions or our health. Our dignity comes from the fact that a loving God made us in his image and likeness and gave us souls that are eternal. The state does not bestow dignity on a human person, God does.

As a priest, I have accompanied people in their last days, including both my parents, and seen the profound changes that can occur when a person is open to God’s love and mercy as they approach their earthly end. I have heard so many stories of families who were grateful for those last moments, which thanks to advances in medicine and hospice care, are not filled with pain.

However, if Proposition 106 is passed, it will create a system that has the potential to rob people of those cherished moments with their loved ones. It will also incentivize inhumane treatment by health insurance companies and people who stand to gain financially from the deaths of the sick, elderly, or disabled. For example, in Oregon, a woman with breast cancer was told by her insurance that it would not cover her chemotherapy, but would cover the pills for her to commit suicide, even though she was still in fairly good health.

In stark contrast to Proposition 106 and its values stands the testimony of Coloradan Miranda Smith, whose mom died naturally while receiving hospice care for brain cancer. “I wouldn’t give up those last moments of my mom up for anything in the world … seeing how in those last weeks, how family would come and she would touch them; I can’t imagine not having that.”

As Coloradans, we cannot allow our state to become the next suicide state. We must treat life with care, dignity and true compassion, instead of exposing it to the error-prone, unaccountable system that Proposition 106 would create. Vote “No” on physician-assisted suicide and help build a culture of life!

To contribute to the effort to defeat Proposition 106, please make checks out to No Assisted Suicide Colorado and mail it to 1535 Logan St., Denver, CO 80203. Donations are not tax-deductible.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”