The U.S. bishops will debate and vote on a statement that strongly opposes physician assisted suicide--one of the most controversial topics in American society.
“After years of relative inaction following legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in 1994, the assisted suicide movement has shown a strong resurgence in activity,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, head of the bishops' pro-life committee.
“The Church needs to respond in a timely and visible way to this renewed challenge, which will surely be pursued in a number of states in the years to come,” he said.
The bishops will vote on a document on doctor-assisted suicide at their June 15-17 spring assembly in Seattle. The statement, “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” will be the first official stance taken on the issue by the full body of the U.S. bishops' conference.
A Gallup poll released on May 31 shows Americans are sharply divided on the topic, with 45 percent finding it permissible versus 48 percent who believe it is morally wrong.
Cardinal DiNardo warned that increasing cultural acceptance of doctor-assisted suicide has led to legislative efforts to make the practice widespread in the U.S.
“This renewed effort has led to the passage of an Oregon-style law in Washington by popular referendum in November 2008, a state supreme court decision essentially declaring that assisted suicide is not against public policy in Montana, and concerted efforts to pass legislation in several New England and Western states,” he said.
The bishops’ draft statement recognizes the hardships and fears of patients facing terminal illness, and at the same time counters the popular claims of the assisted suicide movement that the act affirms patients’ “choices” and expresses “compassion” for their suffering.
The bishops argue that true compassion eliminates suffering, not the patient himself, and that medical workers must dedicate themselves to addressing the patients' needs and affirming their value as human beings.
The statement also warns that the “compassion” as defined by assisted suicide advocates is a slippery slope, that will extend to others who do not have terminal illnesses such as individuals with disabilities.
The bishops also say they are concerned about the practice undermining patients’ freedom, citing legal systems such as the Netherlands, where voluntary assisted suicide has led to involuntary euthanasia in certain instances.
The U.S. bishops also raise the economic interests of those advocating the legalization of assisted suicide, arguing that the practice can ultimately become an excuse to save money by denying better medical care to seriously ill people – even for those who never considered the option.