To be or not to be — parsing the implications of suicide

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

In recent years we have witnessed a growing tendency to promote suicide as a way of resolving end-stage suffering. Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in a handful of states and a number of other jurisdictions are considering laws to legalize the practice. A few years ago on Nightline, Barbara Walters interviewed an assisted suicide advocate who summed it up this way: “We’re talking about what people want. There are people who, even suffering horribly, want to live out every second of their lives, and that’s their right, of course, and they should do it. Others don’t want that. Others want out!”

Those favoring physician-assisted suicide argue that getting out of our final agony means essentially redeeming a “get out of jail free” card through committing suicide. At first glance, taking this step would indeed appear to end our troubles definitively. But what if this view of things is dead wrong, and we don’t actually end up escaping our sufferings? What if we, instead, end up in a new situation where our trials are still present, and maybe even more intense, on account of the willful decision we made to end our own life?

I was recently reminded of this serious flaw in the “suicide solution” after watching a remarkable video adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, with Campbell Scott co-directing and starring in the title role. Listening once again to Hamlet’s timeless soliloquy “to be or not to be,” I was struck by how carefully Shakespeare addresses the vexing question of intense human suffering and the perennial temptation to commit suicide.

Hamlet muses about whether it is better to put up with the bad things we know about in this life than to step into the strange new land of death’s “undiscovered country,” a country about which we know very little, and from which no one returns. This leaves us, in Hamlet’s words, “puzzled” and in “dread of something after death.” He wonders aloud about the hidden purposes of suffering when he asks himself, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” than to “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” He concludes by asking whether we shouldn’t rather “bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?”

Among those who end up committing suicide, whether physician-assisted or otherwise, many will face extenuating circumstances including severe depression or other forms of extreme mental pain. In such cases, it is clear that their moral responsibility will be greatly diminished, as fear and anguish constrict their ability to think and reason clearly. But this is not always the case, and some people, with clear mind and directed intention, do choose to end their lives, as appears to have been the case for Britney Maynard. She was the young woman in California who in the early stages of her brain cancer carefully arranged and orchestrated her own physician-assisted suicide, establishing months in advance the date and setting, who would be present in the room, what music would be playing as she did it, etc.

Such a decision is always a tragedy, and every life, even when compromised by disease or suffering, remains a great gift to be cared for. When freely chosen, suicide is a form of serious wrongdoing and is, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations.” It leaves behind loved ones to contend with unresolved guilt, shame, and pain.

While ending our life may seem to offer an “escape valve” for the serious pressures and sufferings we face, we do well to consider the real effects of this choice both in this life, and in the life to come. In the next life, a preceding act of suicide may deny us the very relief we were seeking, and may, in fact, lead to harsher purification in a new situation of our own making, or, heaven forbid, lead to a fate far worse than purgatory.

Our Lord and his Church care profoundly for those who commit suicide, and even though this act clearly involves grave matter, the Catechism reminds us that, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

Suicide affects us not only in the here and now, but has significant, even eternal, implications for the journey to that “undiscovered country” that awaits us.

COMING UP: Seeds of Hope, Catholic schools to host “2018-19 Around the AoD Tour”

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Seeds of Hope, in conjunction with Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools, will present the 2018-19 Around the Archdiocese of Denver (AoD) Tour, hosting open-to-the-public school tours at each of the K-8 and high schools that will showcase the faith formation and learning taking place in each of the 36 Archdiocese of Denver schools.

The Around the AoD Tour kicks off on Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Mar. 19, 2019. To commemorate the tour stops, each person who visits a school on the 2018-19 Around the AoD the Tour will receive a free 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour t-shirt. A representative from Seeds of Hope and a tour guide from each school will greet and lead visitors. This is a chance to see inner workings of the schools, ask questions of leadership and see up close the differences the schools are making in their communities every day. No matter where somebody is in the Denver Metro or Northern Colorado area, there is a 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour stop coming soon to their community.

“We want people in their communities to be able to see firsthand how our schools are building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth,” said Seeds of Hope Executive Director Jay Clark. “Our schools are the future of our Church and seeing the students and teachers in action with school leaders is an incredibly inspiring way to spend an hour.”

Signing up for a tour is easy – just visit seedsofhopedenver.org, call 303-715-3127 or email info@seedsofhopedenver.org to choose a tour
date and t-shirt size.

2018-19 Around the AoD Tour Schedule

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
Sacred Heart
1317 Mapleton Avenue, Boulder, 80304
11:00 AM

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
St. Louis 
925 Grant Avenue, Louisville, 80027
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 9, 2018
Annunciation
3536 Lafayette Street, Denver, 80205
11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Stephen
414 South Hyland Park Drive, Glenwood Springs, 81601 11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Clare of Assisi
31622 Highway 6, Edwards, 81632
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Baptist
350 Emery Street, Longmont, 80501
9:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Evangelist
1730 West 12th Street, Loveland, 80537
11:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. Joseph
127 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins, 80521
1:30 PM

Tue., Oct. 30, 2018
St. Mary’s Greeley
2351 22nd Avenue, Greeley, 80631
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Holy Family HS
5195 West 144th Avenue, Broomfield, 80023
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Nativity of Our Lord
900 West Midway Blvd., Broomfield, 80020
1:00 PM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
St. Vincent De Paul
1164 South Josephine Street, Denver, 80210
9:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
2256 South Logan Street, Denver, 80210
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Most Precious Blood
3959 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, 80210
1:00 PM

Thu., Nov. 15, 2018
Bishop Machebeuf HS
458 Uinta Way, Denver, 80230
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
All Souls
4951 South Pennsylvania St., Englewood, 80113
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
St. Mary’s Littleton
6833 South Prince Street, Littleton, 80120
1:00 PM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
Blessed Sacrament
1973 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
11:00 AM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
St. James
1250 Newport Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Tue., Jan. 15, 2019
Frassati Catholic Academy
3951 Cottonwood Lakes Blvd., Thornton, 80241
11:00 AM

Thu., Jan. 17, 2019
St. Rose of Lima
1345 West Dakota Avenue, Denver, 80223
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Our Lady of Fatima
10530 West 20th Avenue, Lakewood, 80215
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Notre Dame
2165 South Zenobia Street, Denver, 80219
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Assumption
2341 East 78th Avenue, Denver, 80229
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Holy Trinity
3050 West 76th Avenue, Westminster, 80030
1:00 PM

Thu., Feb. 7, 2019
St. Francis De Sales
235 South Sherman Street, Denver, 80209
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Sts. Peter and Paul
3920 Pierce Street, Wheat Ridge, 80033
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Shrine of St. Anne
7320 Grant Place, Arvada, 80002
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
St. Thomas More
7071 East Otero Avenue, Centennial, 80112
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
Our Lady of Loreto
18000 E. Arapahoe Road, Foxfield, 80016
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Good Shepherd
620 Elizabeth Street, Denver, 80206
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Christ the King
860 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
St. Catherine of Siena
4200 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80211
11:00 AM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
Guardian Angels
1843 West 52nd Avenue, Denver, 80221
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Therese
1200 Kenton Street, Aurora, 80010
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Pius X
13680 East 14th Place, Aurora, 80011
1:00 PM

About Seeds of Hope: The mission of Seeds of Hope is to cultivate minds and hearts for Christ by making a transformative Catholic education financially accessible to any family who seeks it. Seeds of Hope accomplishes it mission by providing tuition assistance to schools across the Archdiocese of Denver for families in need through fundraising activities. Seeds of Hope also partners with the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools on a Variable Tuition Program that helps calculate affordable tuition for families. Learn more about Seeds of Hope at www.seedsofhopedenver.org.