Physician-assisted suicide is an issue that’s not going away and all people of good will—not just Catholics—need to be aware of its tragic consequences.
That’s the message the Colorado bishops are sharing in the wake of the defeat of House Bill 1054, “End-of-Life Options for Terminally Ill Individuals,” which sought to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state.
That the issue isn’t waning was made clear Feb. 4 when the bill was introduced in the House the day after an identical bill was defeated in a Senate committee. After hours of testimony, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee 6-5.
A second reading of the bill was scheduled for Feb. 24, but it was laid over until June, effectively killing the legislation this session.
Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, which acts and speaks on behalf of all the bishops of Colorado on legislative issues, told the Denver Catholic that “although we won this round, the battle will continue and we can’t let our guard down.”
“There is always the possibility that those promoting physician-assisted suicide in this state will bring the issue up via a ballot initiative during the coming election cycle,” she added. “We must all remain vigilant, and most importantly, we must educate ourselves on this bad public policy and why it’s not something we want in Colorado.”
The bishops and Kraska are encouraging people to educate themselves on the dangers of such laws. To aid with that, the prelates are sponsoring March talks in all three Colorado dioceses by lawyer Wesley J. Smith, author of “Forced Exit: the Slippery Slope from Assisted suicide to Legalized Murder,” who will share what’s happening where physician-assisted suicide is legal.
“States that have permitted assisted suicide see a continual rise in numbers,” Smith told the Denver Catholic. “People get used to what is going on and nobody cares about abuses and the media do not dig. But they exist.”
Evidence shows that such laws, which are cloaked in euphemisms and promoted as “Compassion and Choices”—the new name for the Hemlock Society assisted suicide advocacy group—demean the lives of vulnerable patients, expose them to exploitation and corrupt the medical profession, whose ethical code exhorts them to “do no harm.”
“The idea that assisted suicide is a ‘last resort’ only when suffering cannot otherwise be alleviated is utterly false and not required by any law,” Smith said.
Kraska concurred and offered the well-documented case of Oregon’s Brenda Wagner to highlight the perils of assisted suicide. Wagner, who had successfully battled lung cancer with treatment when she was diagnosed in 2005, was ready to fight again when the cancer returned in 2008 with greater force. But her insurer, the Oregon Health Plan, a government agency, sent her a letter refusing to pay for her medication, instead offering to cover the $50 cost for assisted suicide pills.
“She wasn’t the only one,” Kraska said. “What that tells the sick is that if it’s too expensive to keep you alive, it’s less expensive to kill you.”
In the end, the maker of the medication offered a year’s free treatment to Wagner, who eventually died from the cancer.
“This isn’t just a religious issue,” Kraska said, referring to the Church’s opposition to assisted suicide as it goes against the commandment to not kill and is an attack on the dignity of human life. “This is also a medical issue, a disability issue and a health care issue.”
Smith, who isn’t Catholic and opposes assisted suicide on secular grounds, outlined the slippery slope assisted suicide follows in his first anti-euthanasia piece, published in Newsweek in 1993.
“First, suicide is promoted as a virtue,” he wrote. “Vulnerable people … become early casualties. Then follows mercy killing of the terminally ill. From there, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to killing people who don’t have a good ‘quality’ of life, perhaps with the prospect of organ harvesting thrown in as a plum to society.”
Roxanne King: 720-771-3394; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.twitter.com/RoxanneIKing
What ‘Right to Die’ Laws Really Mean
7 p.m. March 18
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish
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