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Life in the balance

This past weekend close to 4,000 people rallied at the Colorado capitol building to encourage our state to protect life at every stage. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people willing to stand up for the vulnerable – whether they are unborn children or people bravely facing a terminal illness.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken of the “throw-away” mentality that has come to characterize not just how we relate to things but to people. At his March 4, 2015 general audience he said, “a certain culture of profit insists on making the elderly appear to be a burden, an extra weight. They are not only unproductive; they are an encumbrance, and are to be discarded. And discarding them is sinful. We do not dare to say this openly, but it happens.”

This profit-driven approach is apparent in cases like that of Barbara Wagner or Randy Stroup’s. Both of these people were sent letters by Oregon’s state-run health plan stating that it would not provide cancer treatment drugs but would pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

The same attitude lies behind the push to kill the unborn, the disabled, and those who are suffering – even if it’s done in the name of mercy.  How many times have we heard the argument, ‘This child is going to be disabled, so we should abort it,’ or, ‘This elderly woman is suffering from terminal cancer and feels like she is a burden on her family. She should be allowed to end her life.’

St. John Paul II insightfully pointed out another aspect of the disposable culture in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he said that the mindset behind abortion involves a “hedonistic mentality” that is “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality” and regards procreation as “an obstacle to personal fulfilment” (Cf. EV, 13).

In other words, the throw-away culture is being driven by a mentality that is both self-centered and profit-centered, and the consequence of this is that all suffering is seen as an obstacle to real fulfillment.

The same can be said for the arguments being advanced by those seeking to legalize doctor-prescribed death. In the name of a false understanding of freedom and “death with dignity,” lawmakers and lobbyists argue that certain circumstances mean life has lost its value. They seem to believe that some disabilities or types of suffering stand in the way of being fulfilled and that the solution is to end that person’s life.

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Pope Francis has rightly said that the fear of being weak and vulnerable is the driving force behind this argument, not a desire for freedom or true dignity. As Catholics, we know that true dignity comes from being a son or daughter of the Father and that no amount of suffering, disability, or circumstance can take that away.

We also can see this is true on a purely human level, since each of us can think of a time when we suffered in some way that made us a stronger, better person. The same thing is true of suffering in the face of death, those final moments when God is able to refine us and prepare us for our judgement.

As Colorado’s legislators consider House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 25 – the two bills that aim to legalize doctor-prescribed death – I urge you to consider what adopting the throw-away culture would do to our state. We Coloradans pride ourselves on being people who are welcoming, hospitable and caring, but if these bills become law, we will saying that certain types of lives can be discarded.

During his March 4 audience, Pope Francis gave voice to gravity of this decision, saying, “We are all a little fragile, the elderly. Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and affected by illness. … Will we abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, in which gratuitousness and selfless affection — even among strangers — are disappearing, is a perverse society.”

The Colorado I know is a place that comforts the afflicted and is close to those in need. Please join me in contacting our state representatives to speak up for the vulnerable and safeguarding the values of our state. In this Year of Mercy, I call on every Catholic to actively seek out God’s mercy, receive it, and bring it to others.

I encourage you, too, regardless of which political party you belong to, to participate in your caucuses on March 1 to bring Christian values into the public square and help rebuild a culture of life.

To contact your representative and to learn more about the caucus process, visit: www.cocatholicconference.org

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

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