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Look It Up — Perspectives on assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service

Perspective matters.

If I encounter a big problem or challenge, my perspective on the underlying issue at hand plays a key role in whatever action I decide to take.

Sometimes I am reasonably confident that my perspective on the issue is fine. Other times I worry that my angle of vision is too limited or overlooks some essential concern.

Think of a photographer attempting to capture the image of a stunningly beautiful fall flower. Chances are good that the camera will click first from one angle, then from another.

A flower can be viewed from many angles. Does its beauty show best from one particular angle? Maybe, but maybe not.

Similarly, sometimes a conviction that shapes the way people live can be understood first from one perspective, then from another. Often, enough of these perspectives complement each other.

An example of this is found in St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”). The encyclical forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it.

In the context of abortion, assisted suicide, illnesses and other concerns, he examines this pertinent biblical commandment, “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13). “In the first place that commandment prohibits murder,” but as will be “brought out in Israel’s later legislation, it also prohibits all personal injury inflicted on another,” the pope explains.

From one perspective, he indicates, the commandment is “negative,” a commandment opposing something. From another perspective it is positive, implicitly demanding respect, love and care for life.

In this way the pope fleshes out a customary perspective on the commandment.

Its “overall message, which the New Testament will bring to perfection, … culminates in the positive commandment that obliges us to be responsible for our neighbor as for ourselves,” he states.

Thus, listening to God’s word in this case means learning “not only to obey the commandment” against killing human life, but to revere, love and foster life, and when someone’s life is “weak or threatened” to offer “a service of love.”

Not very surprisingly, given these words of St. John Paul, discussions of assisted suicide in the church today often view it both in light of the commandment against taking life and the same commandment’s implicit call to give loving, continuing attention to suffering people.

“Calls for assistance in dying usually disappear when suffering people are well accompanied,” Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec commented in an open letter this year just before assisted suicide became legal for adults in Canada suffering the advanced stages of illnesses or disabilities believed to be incurable.

Speaking to such people, he said, “The life you have received, the breath that sustains you, the personality that characterizes you are imprinted with beauty, nobility and greatness.”

He added that “what you have been, what you are today require, among other things, respect, accompaniment and appropriate care to help you grow to the very end.”

Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.

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Robust pain management, emotional and spiritual support offer alternatives to suicide

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Catholic News Service

MC Sullivan has heard all of the arguments in favor of assisted suicide.

“There are arguments that would touch anyone with a heart,” said the director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. “They are couched in emotional language, emotional stories and the reality of a human being who is suffering unbearably.”

In this April 19, 2011, file photo, patient Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church's main weapon against assisted suicide rests in "robust palliative care," said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sullivan, a registered nurse and attorney who holds a master’s degree in bioethics from Harvard Divinity School, nevertheless spends her days articulating the Catholic Church’s stand against assisted suicide and promoting the pain relief and emotional, physical and spiritual support system that are part of palliative care.

Assisted suicide is promoted as “a literal and figurative last resort” for those who are dying, she said. Its supporters rely on patients’ and their family members’ “fear of the pain that they are told is coming,” as well as their fears of becoming dependent on others or experiencing a loss of their dignity.

“The day that those arguments don’t touch us is a day we have to worry about ourselves,” Sullivan said.

“But there are other realities that I think we lose sight of when we engage with those realities and those fears,” she said. “Life is a joyous and wonderful gift and it is not ours to do with as we will.”

Sullivan was serving as director of ethics for Covenant Health in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, in 2012 and joined with the Archdiocese of Boston and other organizations in a coalition that narrowly defeated a ballot question that would have allowed assisted suicide in the commonwealth.

Under Massachusetts law, when a ballot question is defeated it cannot be put on the ballot again until six years later. But that has not kept proponents of assisted suicide from bringing up the matter in the legislature and trying to influence public opinion.

“We hoped the issue would go away, but that has not been the case,” she said.

When Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston decided to open a new office on palliative care in 2015, Sullivan was his choice to lead the initiative, believed to be the only archdiocesan agency in the nation with such a charge.

Compassion & Choices, a leading proponent of assisted suicide in the United States formerly known as the Hemlock Society, presents its arguments in terms of individual autonomy, free choice and “better end-of-life options,” Sullivan said. But “it’s not about end-of-life care choices,” she added. “It’s about ending life.”

The church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” she said, describing it as “a comprehensive model of being with and caring for someone with a serious, life-limiting illness.”

Sometimes confused with hospice care, palliative care is not only for those close to death and can begin at any stage of an illness, Sullivan said. It also includes effective pain management and encompasses all of the family members and friends involved as caregivers for the patient, “the people who are your people.”

Palliative care is “patient-centered and family-oriented,” she added.

Sullivan said anyone with a life-limiting illness can reach the point of letting go of the fears associated with death if they have help with pain management and handling of the “practical considerations” sometimes associated with an illness.

“I know how fearful letting go can be,” she said. “But at the same time there can also be an amazing richness of experience of loving and being loved that happens in states of serious illness.”

Surveys nationwide have shown that the vast majority of Americans are not interested in participating in an assisted suicide or even in talking about it, Sullivan said.

“Even its proponents will tell us that it just for a small part of the population,” she added. “So why has it become a matter for public policy, which is meant to be applied broadly? That’s turning it on its head.”

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

 

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Why the Catholic Church opposes legalized assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service

Concern for human life and dignity from conception to natural death is a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching. But new challenges continue to crop up for those at the end of their lives, as backers of assisted suicide make inroads in various states through legislative action, voters’ choices or judicial fiat.

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, "The Gospel of Life" ("Evangelium Vitae"), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them.

The Catholic Church has long been a staunch opponent of efforts to legalize assisted suicide, describing it as not just a religious issue but a matter of human rights.

“From not only a Catholic perspective but any rational perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, as Canada prepared for the legalization of assisted suicide earlier this year.

He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the issue with the 2011 statement, “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” which takes on many of the arguments used to justify assisted suicide.

“One cannot uphold human freedom and dignity by devaluing human life,” the statement says. “A choice to take one’s life is a supreme contradiction of freedom, a choice to eliminate all choices. And a society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms.”

The church also sees assisted suicide as a failure to address people’s very real fears about overly burdensome medical treatments and intractable pain at the end of life, as well as the depression and guilt that sometimes fuel decisions to commit assisted suicide.

But opponents of assisted suicide see the answer to those concerns in greater reliance on palliative care.

“Palliative care implements a holistic, interdisciplinary care plan that identifies, assesses and addresses the comprehensive needs of the seriously ill patient, including pain and other symptom management, psychosocial issues, emotional support and spiritual care,” according to a brochure from the Supportive Care Coalition, composed of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic Health Association and 17 Catholic health care ministries serving in 43 states.

The coalition, based in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, sees palliative care as “a hallmark of Catholic health care.”

“It embodies our commitment to provide compassionate, high-quality, patient- and family-centered care for the chronically ill and dying by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering,” the brochure adds.

In June, just days after California began permitting assisted suicide, Pope Francis said some supporters of euthanasia tend to “hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient.”

“True compassion marginalizes no one, it does not humiliate people, it does not exclude them, much less consider their death as a good thing,” the pope said in a talk to health professionals from Spain and Latin America. “This would mean the triumph of selfishness, of that ‘throwaway culture’ that rejects and scorns people who do not fulfill certain criteria of health, beauty and usefulness.”

His predecessor, St. John Paul II, wrote in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), “To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called ‘assisted suicide’ means to cooperate in and at times to be the actual perpetrator of an injustice that can never be excused even if it is requested.”

He also criticized laws that “legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia.”

The U.S bishops’ 2009 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services state that Catholic health care institutions “may never condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way.”

“Dying patients who request euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support and appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity until the time of natural death,” the directives add.

But part of the church’s role in fighting assisted suicide is in educating people that church teaching does not require the continuation of aggressive or extraordinary medical treatments when their benefit is outweighed by the burdens placed on the patient and his or her family.

In addition, many Catholics are unaware that suffering patients may receive as much pain medication as needed, even if it might hasten the patient’s death, as long as the intention is not to cause death but to relieve pain.

But in nearly every U.S. state, efforts continue in the legislatures, the courts or the court of public opinion to make assisted suicide a legal option.

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

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Living Our Faith — Assisted suicide and palliative care

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Discussions of assisted suicide in the church today often view it both in light of the commandment against taking life and the same commandment’s implicit call to give loving, continuing attention to suffering people.

Opponents of the assisted suicide bill C-14 rally June 1, 2014, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them. (CNS photo/Art Babych)

Opponents of the assisted suicide bill C-14 rally June 1, 2014, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them. (CNS photo/Art Babych)

But in nearly every U.S. state, efforts continue in the legislatures, the courts or the court of public opinion to make assisted suicide a legal option.

Opponents of assisted suicide see the answer to those concerns in greater reliance on palliative care —medical care that reduces pain and symptoms of incurable cases.

Palliative care is not only for those close to death. It includes effective pain management and encompasses all of the family members and friends involved as caregivers for the patient.

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Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 25, 2016

September 22nd, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized Tags:

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle C. Readings:
1) Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146:7-10
2) 1 Timothy 6:11-16
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
I love it when youth say what’s on their mind.
For instance, they’ll ask, “What’s so special about poor people?” or, “If there is fire in hell, do you burn up and disappear?”
Likewise, adults often express confusion about Catholic social teaching’s “preferential option for the poor.” They ask whether the church is saying that God loves the poor more than fortunate people and, if not, then what’s the point? Read more »

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Diocesan Marian Pilgrimage Oct. 1

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The Diocese of Wilmington will hold its annual Marian Pilgrimage on Oct. 1 at Holy Spirit Church in New Castle, home of the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace. Read more »

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No war is holy, pope says at interreligious peace gathering in Assisi

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Violence in the name of God does not represent the true nature of religion and must be condemned by all faiths, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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Father Hesburgh, JFK slated for postage stamps in 2017

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WASHINGTON — Two prominent Catholics will be commemorated on U.S. postage stamps in 2017.

Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, who was president of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years, and President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas in 1963, are among several subjects that will be part of next year’s stamp program, the U.S. Postal Service announced Sept. 20. Read more »

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Help families provide the gift of Catholic education

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Dear Friends,

 

With the start of another school year, our thoughts quite naturally turn toward our Catholic youth and the hope they provide for the future of our Church and society.

Through the years, Catholic school education has endured as an instrument of evangelization, transmitting the treasure of our faith and values to new generations. The Catholic school experience not only arms our children for the challenges they will face as adults, it prepares them to become intellectual and moral leaders in our society. Read more »

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Two parish priests kidnapped, murdered in Poza Rica, Mexico

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, raising the death toll of clergy murdered in Mexico to 14 in less than four years.

Veracruz state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras told reporters Sept. 20 that the “victims and the victimizers knew each other” and added that the attack was “not a kidnapping.”

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The priests were found murdered that day, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served. (CNS /EPA)

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The priests were found murdered that day, just hours after they were kidnapped from the low-income neighborhood where they served. (CNS /EPA)

“They were together, having a few drinks, the gathering broke down due to alcohol and turned violent,” he said.

Catholic officials in Veracruz rejected the explanation, calling it “an easy out” and saying it ignored the reality of a state notorious for crime and corruption.

“We are hoping for more professional and careful inquiry, because this declaration the prosecutor is giving generates more doubts than responses to the issue of the murder of these two priests,” said Father Jose Manuel Suazo Reyes, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Xalapa. “It surprises us how quickly they’ve concluded an investigation that requires more time and care.”

Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.

Media reported the men were found Sept. 19, one day after their abduction, along the side of a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

A driver employed by the parish also was abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.

State officials said Sept. 20 that five men participated in the abductions and one of the suspect’s identities was known. Robbery of a church building fund was cited as a motive, Veracruz media outlet Plumas Libres reported.

“In these moments of pain, impotence and tragedy provoked by violence, we raise our prayers to the heavens for the eternal rest of our brothers and implore to the Lord the conversion of the aggressors. Of the authorities, we await the clarification of the acts and the application of those responsible,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a statement.

Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.

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