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Physician-assisted suicide unwelcome change

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placeholder June 27, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Physician-assisted suicide unwelcome change

The California Catholic Conference of Bishops, comprised of bishops from the two archdioceses and 10 dioceses of California, issued this statement on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide on June 9:

Every human being possesses inherent dignity, which deserves our respect. Each of us should feel loved, worthy and cared for at every moment of our lives, especially when our earthly journey is nearing its end.

Gov. Jerry Brown

What some mistakenly consider a newfound "freedom," will inevitably become a duty for others. By allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to their patients, California is embarking on a dangerous course. This new law will place the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable people at risk for abuse and mistreatment and will undermine the healing professions' venerable commitment to "first do no harm."

As Catholics, we have been called from the very beginning of our faith to care for the sick. This commitment to care for life at all stages will not be deterred by this law. The bishops of California and our partners in Catholic health care renew our promise to exceptional healing and compassionate care for those facing diagnosis of a terminal illness.

Together, we vow to strengthen our palliative care and other health care services for the chronically and terminally ill, so that no one we treat feels compelled to choose assisted suicide. Through our health care professionals and the care and compassion of all people of goodwill, we will continue to lovingly attend, accompany and care for the terminally ill on their final journey.

We have spoken — and will continue to speak — vigorously against this misguided law. It does not, for example, require a psychological assessment of people requesting assisted suicide. There are also significant concerns from the disability rights community about the lack of safeguards in the law, an absence of reliable information about its use and the growth of suicide in other states where assisted suicide is legal.

Pope Francis has challenged us many times to care for those on the margins. In an address last year to medical professionals he addressed our responsibility to care for people at the end of life:

"Palliative care is an expression of the truly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially of those who suffer. It is a testimony that the human person is always precious, even if marked by illness and old age. Indeed, the person, under any circumstances, is an asset to him/herself and to others and is loved by God. This is why, when their life becomes very fragile and the end of their earthly existence approaches, we feel the responsibility to assist and accompany them in the best way."

We echo this commitment of our faith and take to heart the words of St. John Paul II: "Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!"


The new law

Despite bi-partisan opposition and being defeated in the regular legislative session, California's End-of-Life Option Act was passed in a special, abbreviated session with limited hearings and altered committee membership.

With the passage of the law, California is the fifth state allowing ill patients to end their lives. Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington also allow assisted suicide.

The California law, based on similar legislation in Oregon, allows doctors to give lethal drugs to adults with a terminal illness if they are deemed medically competent and expected to die within six months.

Notably on June 9, the same day the California law went into effect, Pope Francis told health professionals from Spain and Latin America that growing acceptance of euthanasia does not indicate increased compassion, but highlights the rise of a selfish "throwaway culture" that casts aside the sick, the dying and those who do not satisfy the perceived requirements of a healthy life.

In a culture that is increasingly "technological and individualistic," some tend to "hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient," the pope said. "True compassion does not marginalize, humiliate or exclude, much less celebrate a patient passing away," the pope said. "You know well that would mean the triumph of selfishness, of that 'throwaway culture' that rejects and despises people who do not meet certain standards of health, beauty or usefulness." Thanking doctors who care for "those who suffer in body and spirit," Pope Francis insisted physicians' identity as doctors does not depend solely on their knowledge or competence, but mainly on their compassion and mercy toward the sick. "Compassion does not mean pity, it means 'suffering with,'" the pope said. When physicians share in the suffering of their patients, he added, the "sacred value of the life of the patient does not disappear or become obscured."


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