.- Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston called on local voters to oppose a ballot measure legalizing physician-assisted suicide, warning against claims that there is no danger of a “slippery slope.”
“Please join me to stop assisted suicide by voting 'No on Question 2' on Election Day,” he said, asking voters to “stop this bad idea and bad law from going into effect.”
The cardinal's Oct. 12 column in The Boston Pilot said that small decisions can lead to “undesirable outcomes that never would have been supported at the outset.”
He criticized Massachusetts' Question 2, which would allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to allow their terminally ill patients to commit suicide. It requires a 15 day waiting period before the suicide drug can be dispensed. Under the proposal, death certificates would not present assisted suicide as a patient’s cause of death, but rather list their terminal illness.
The cardinal said opponents of the proposal fear that it is “harmful in itself” and could lead to “unintended tragic outcomes.” Ethicists, he noted, are concerned that assisted suicide devalues human life and those who work to prevent suicide fear that legally allowing suicide for one group could increase suicide rates among the rest of the population.
“How can a state effectively both try to minimize suicide in some situations and promote it as a legal alternative in other situations?” he asked.
Doctors and nurses are concerned assisted suicide could lead to poorer care for those near the end of life, while doctors also say it could harm the doctor patient relationship, the cardinal said.
The American Medical Association opposes physician-assisted suicide as “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer.” It would be “impossible to control” and would pose “serious societal risks.”
The Massachusetts Medical Society also opposes physician assisted suicide.
Cardinal O'Malley warned that assisted suicide could become a new form of elder abuse and could mean fewer benefits or protections for the disabled. The legislation does not protect the terminally ill from pressure to commit suicide from indifferent family members or those who stand to inherit property.
The example of the Netherlands suggests that assisted suicide would lead to direct voluntary euthanasia and then involuntary euthanasia. Dutch advocates against the practice say it is being applied to patients with dementia and others who cannot be competent to request aid in dying, including children. Some assisted suicide advocates in the country are already advocating its expansion beyond the terminally ill to allow anyone over age 70 to seek assistance in killing themselves.
Cardinal O’Malley noted the U.S. bishops’ words on the Netherlands situation in their 2011 document “To Live Each Day With Dignity.”
“Once they convinced themselves that ending a short life can be an act of compassion, it was morbidly logical to conclude that ending a longer life may show even more compassion,” the statement said.
“Psychologically, as well, the physician who has begun to offer death as a solution for some illnesses is tempted to view it as the answer for an ever-broader range of problems.”
Cardinal O'Malley said that the U.S. is not in the same situation as the Netherlands not because the laws that allow assisted suicide are “well written” or have “careful oversight.”
“What has put the brakes on the growth of physician-assisted suicide in the U.S. is that more than 20 states have rejected proposed legislation and ballot initiatives,” he said.
Cardinal O’Malley referred voters to the website of the coalition against Question 2, www.StopAssistedSuicide.org. He also noted the Archdiocese of Boston’s website on end of life issues, www.SuicideIsAlwaysATragedy.org.
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