Aiding the terminally ill in hastening their death, long condemned as immoral and an affront to the dignity of life, is slowly gaining traction.
After Oregon passed assisted suicide laws called “death with dignity” by proponents in 1994, three others states—Washington, Montana and Vermont—passed laws permitting it. Early this year, a New Mexico judge ruled to protect physicians who help patients die.
The Hemlock Society, named as a reminder of the harsh reality of death by poison, is operating under the new name “Compassion and Choices” and launching a campaign across the nation to push for legalized assisted suicide.
One of its next targets is Colorado.
Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Church’s public policy arm the Colorado Catholic Conference, said the state is targeted because Compassion and Choices is headquartered in Denver.
“I think that makes it a likely target,” she said. “Colorado throughout its history has attracted these kinds of movements and has been sort of a test case if you will.”
She said a bill legalizing assisted suicide is expected to be proposed during the next legislative session.
Historically, many states have rejected proposals by legislatures and voters to prescribe lethal drugs to patients. In 1997, The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the claim that it’s a constitutional right to access assisted suicide, which upheld state laws protecting innocent human life and the safe practice of medicine.
Colorado is among many states that explicitly says a person commits the crime of manslaughter if one intentionally causes or aids another’s suicide.
Kraska said it’s likely the movement is pushing for legalization so the act of assisted suicide becomes accepted.
“I think they want their choice to be accepted,” Kraska said of those who want to commit suicide.
Deacon Dr. Alan Rastrelli, a medical director for the Catholic hospice organization Divine Mercy Supportive Care, said laws are not needed to permit a person to “choose” to end their life by suicide.
“From the beginning of mankind, human beings have had the freedom to make right or wrong choices,” he told the Denver Catholic Register. “But it is wrong to deceitfully ‘legitimize’ by legislation the taking of one’s own life or that of another. It denies loved ones and health-care providers the opportunity to provide the (care) we all are drawn to give to the dying—‘the cloth on the forehead,’ of being present as family and friends to ease suffering.”
For physicians, assisted suicide is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath that states they will not give a lethal drug to a patient. For patients, it’s fundamentally contrary to the natural law, the moral sense to discern good and evil that’s engraved on the soul of every human being.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that legalization creates a bias against the ill and disabled.
“By rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, the government implicitly communicates the message—before anyone signs a form to accept this alleged benefit—that they may be better off dead,” the bishops said in the statement “To Live Each Day with Dignity.”
“Thus the bias of too many able-bodied people against the value of life for someone with an illness or disability is embodied in official policy.”
The nation has been exposed to this agenda through Compassion and Choices’ latest volunteer advocate, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She launched an online video campaign about planning to end her life Nov. 1 (see related story here).
Colorado and other states will soon face the question of legalizing assisted suicide, Kraska said.
“What’s important for people to understand and to know is that this is an issue we will be faced with as Coloradans,” she said, “and we need to be prepared for it.”