Physician-assisted suicide a continued threat

Bishops urge voters to remain vigilant, inform themselves

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.

See details for the talks in the Archdiocese of Denver on March 18 and March 19

“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.

IMG_3465Kraska 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; editor_king@icloud.com; www.twitter.com/RoxanneIKing

What ‘Right to Die’ Laws Really Mean
7 p.m. March 18
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish
5450 S. Lemay Ave., Fort Collins

What ‘Right to Die’ Laws Really Mean
9 a.m. March 19
St. Thomas More Parish
8035 S. Quebec St., Centennial

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”