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Judge OKs court challenge to California’s assisted suicide law

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Catholic News Service

 

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) — A Superior Court judge ruled June 16 that a civil rights lawsuit challenging California’s assisted suicide law will go forward.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Ottolia denied California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which had asked the judge to decide the case against the plaintiffs without a trial. Read more »

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Assisted suicide ‘solution’ coerces the dying and families

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My father-in-law died this past month. He was a good, hardworking man, an immigrant, self-taught and self-reliant.

As is likely both the fear and the fate of many of us, he died in a hospital, tethered to a swarm of IVs. With various doctors weighing in on his various conditions, his family struggled to make the right decisions at a time of conflicting advice and great emotion. No one wanted him to go. No one wanted him to suffer.

All our lives, we’ve been trained to rely on doctors for advice. At this literally life-and-death moment, however, they often let us down. As Dr. Dhruv Khullar wrote in The New York Times recently, “For years the medical profession has largely fumbled the question of what we should do when there’s nothing more we can do.” Read more »

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Voters reject nearly all measures on issues of Catholic concern

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In this year’s election, voters went against nearly all of the ballot initiatives backed by Catholic leaders and advocates, except the referendums on minimum wage increases and gun control measures.

Voters passed an assisted suicide measure in Colorado and voted in favor of the death penalty in three states and in favor of legalized recreational marijuana in four states and against it in one. They also voted for minimum wage increases and gun control measures in four states. Read more »

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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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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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Canada’s House sends assisted suicide bill to Senate for approval

June 2nd, 2016 Posted in Featured, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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OTTAWA, Ontario — The Canadian government’s assisted suicide legislation, which the nation’s bishops describe as “fundamentally unjust” and an “affront to human dignity,” easily passed third and final reading in the House of Commons May 31 and was sent to the Senate for final approval.
By a vote of 186-137, the House passed Bill C-14, which would legalize medically assisted death for mentally competent adults who, while not necessarily terminally ill, have a serious and incurable illness and are “suffering intolerably” and whose death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Read more »

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Los Angeles archbishop calls for veto of California assisted suicide bill

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LOS ANGELES — California’s newly passed measure to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill “is no way for our government to make policy on a life and death issue that will affect millions of individuals and families,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

“I am deeply disturbed by the California Legislature’s decision to allow doctors to help their patients kill themselves,” he said.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is calling on the governor of California to veto an assisted suicide bill passed by the state's Assembly. (CNS file)

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is calling on the governor of California to veto an assisted suicide bill passed by the state’s Assembly. (CNS file)

He made the remarks in a statement issued the night of Sept. 11, not long after the state Senate approved the bill with a 23-14 vote.

The state Assembly passed the bill two days earlier 44-35. It has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature, but as of Sept. 14, he had not indicated whether he will sign it.

According to an AP story, the bill requires that a patient with a terminal disease must be physically capable of taking medication that would end his or her life. It says that a patient must submit written requests for the medication, that two doctors must approve the request and that there must be two witnesses.

Archbishop Gomez noted in his statement that in early July, a previous bill to allow doctor-assisted suicide was pulled by its primary sponsors hours before a state Assembly hearing on it. The bill had already passed the state Senate, with votes largely along party lines. But the bill’s authors had said it was dead for this year.

However, the Legislature called a special session to deal with a number of issues, including the assisted suicide bill and “chose to rush this legislation through in less than three weeks, holding only two hearings,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“As a result, lawmakers did not have any chance to consider the deeper issues raised by end-of-life care in the state,” he continued. Those issues, he said, include “the cost of treatments, especially the cost of cancer medications; insurance practices that limit access to hospice care and physicians’ options in providing adequate pain relief; the impact of this legislation on the poor and other underserved populations.”

“The people of California, especially the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled, deserve much better from their leaders. And make no mistake, it will be these most vulnerable populations who are going to suffer from this legislation.”

Archbishop Gomez is a member of the Legislation and Public Policy Committee of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

He urged the measure be vetoed and said the legislation, as well as the process by which it was passed, “is not worthy of our great state, which continues to do so much to promote human dignity and equality of access to health care.”

“We need to be clear about our language so we can understand what the Legislature is really doing here,” the archbishop explained. “It is not legalizing ‘aid in dying.’ What the Legislature is legalizing is the ability of a doctor to write prescriptions for the express purpose of killing another human being.”

Disability rights advocates have campaigned against the bill. Those backing it include the parents and husband of Brittany Maynard, a California woman who, upon learning she had a terminal illness, moved to Oregon last year so she could take advantage of that state’s physician-assisted suicide law.

One California woman facing a terminal illness was using her remaining days to fight legalizing assisted suicide.

Stephanie Packer, 32, a wife and mother of four, was told in 2012 she had three years to live. She is affected with scleroderma, which is a hardening of the skin and connective tissues. All the scarring caused by the disease has paralyzed her gastrointestinal tract, requiring her now to take all of her nutrients through a tube.

“If everyone had a doctor who cared, no one would even consider ending their own life,” she said in a posting on her website, stephaniesjourney.org. “Patients don’t know how to find that doctor or how to navigate the complicated health care system and they don’t have the tools or information they need. They’re so tired and don’t have the strength to deal with the fight. Instead, they’ll take the assisted suicide option because it’s easier.”

Archbishop Gomez in his statement said those who will be most affected by doctor-assisted suicide will be poor families, African-Americans, Latinos and immigrants, because they do not have access to quality health care and have limited treatment options when they face a serious or terminal illness.

“In a health care system that is cost-conscious and profit-driven, do we really imagine that these vulnerable populations will have a ‘choice’ to receive end-of-life care once we make lethal prescriptions an acceptable ‘treatment option’?” he asked.

He said the bill gives those relying on subsidized health care “no explicit rights or guarantees that they will be able to choose to be treated and cared for rather than to kill themselves.”

He added that the measure “only deepens the divides in our society along the lines of race, ethnicity and income. The reality is that millions of Californians do not have the luxury to advocate for ‘death’ with dignity are too busy struggling against poverty, discrimination, disability, illness and crime.”

Besides Oregon, three other states have laws permitting physician-assisted suicide: Washington, Montana and Vermont.

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Medical professionals oppose assisted suicide bill in D.C.

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in the District of Columbia are considering legislation that permits doctors to prescribe medications that would enable terminally ill patients to end their lives.

The Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Health and Human Services held a daylong hearing July 10 on the proposed Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

Members of the public attend a July 10 hearing at the Wilson Building in Washington. A Council of the District of Columbia committee heard testimony on the Death of Dignity Act of 2015 that would legalize assisted suicide in the nation's capital. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Members of the public attend a July 10 hearing at the Wilson Building in Washington. A Council of the District of Columbia committee heard testimony on the Death of Dignity Act of 2015 that would legalize assisted suicide in the nation’s capital. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Lawmakers heard testimony from opponents and supporters of the measure that would allow doctors to legally prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a patient who is deemed mentally competent and who has received a terminal diagnosis.

The bill was introduced by council member Mary M. Cheh. She said that if the proposal passed, it would offer terminally ill patients “a peaceful exit.”

“The law should not force upon a person a punishing death,” she said.

Opponents of the measure contend that a doctor should not kill patients in an effort to ease their pain.

“It’s a really bad idea for physicians who are in charge of bringing health and comfort to their patients to be looked upon by some patients as someone who might be the bringer of death,” said Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics and professor at Georgetown University Medical Center.

The bill specifies that a physician may legally prescribe lethal drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

“We physicians know that predicting the duration of a terminal disease is nearly impossible to do accurately,” Donovan said. “Rather than enable our patient’s suicide, we should be improving palliative care and hospice options near the end of life. That would allow patients to truly live their final days with comfort and dignity.”

Those opposing the bill point out that it does not require doctors to give patients a screening for depression before providing them with the lethal prescription; the patient is not required to notify family members before taking the medication; and no doctor, nurse, or legal witness is required to be present when the lethal dose is taken.

“Our health care system is failing people with disabilities, including disabilities caused by terminal illnesses and this legislation is not the answer. We need to make sure people are receiving the supports they need in order to live in their own homes — not to create a new fast track toward death,” said Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People who need these supports shouldn’t have to die to have dignity.”

Crane also is a spokeswoman for No DC Suicide, a coalition of health care professionals, disability advocates, representatives of various faiths and concerned citizens that was formed to advocate against the District’s proposed Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

The No DC Suicide coalition stresses that it is impossible to accurately predict a patient’s terminal prognosis. It also said that the proposal before the district council does not have safeguards to ensure that a patient is not coerced into ingesting the drug, or to prevent another person from administering the drug.

Elaine Petty, a registered nurse and director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and part of the No DC Suicide coalition, said that physician-assisted suicide would lead to “medical abandonment” at the very time people most need such support.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Health, also told committee members that she opposed the measure because “a physician’s oath is to do no harm.”

She said that the legislation is vague and “catapults the District into uncharted territory we are not prepared to navigate.” She told lawmakers that the bill does not specify the type of lethal medication to be prescribed or outline what qualifications a doctor needs in order to be able to determine if a patient is terminal or is mentally competent.

Other medical professionals also urged the committee not to pass the legislation.

Dr. Sarah Murray, an attending physician at Georgetown University Hospital, said, “physician assisted suicide goes against everything we do as doctors.” Dr. John Campbell from Providence Hospital’s Center for Geriatric Medicine called the proposed bill “false compassion.”

Cheh said she modeled her bill on the assisted suicide law in Oregon which allows doctors to prescribe medicines so that terminally ill patients may end their lives. That is that state where 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved last year in order to terminate her life. The California woman, who was diagnosed with brain cancer, gained national attention as she advocated for “death with dignity” for terminally ill patients by publically announcing her decision to kill herself. She did so Nov. 1.

Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, testified at the council hearing via telephone hookup.

Diaz, who said he is a practicing Catholic, noted that he was “keenly aware of the doctrinal side of this” proposal, but added that “nobody should impose their doctrine on somebody else … and submit them to a brutal death.”

Council member Yvette Alexander, a Catholic and chairperson of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, said that “the greatest human freedom is to live and die according to one’s belief,” but she conceded that “there are ethical, moral and religious issues that must be addressed.”

Seattle-based attorney Margaret Dore, president of the “Choice is an Illusion” human rights organization opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, also testified via telephone hookup. She said that under the proposed bill, a person can commit suicide and the “the death certificate is falsified and does not reflect the true cause of death” because it would list the person’s diagnosis and not suicide as the cause of death.

She also warned that “predicting life expectancy is not an exact science” and because of a “complete lack of oversight,” anyone can administer the lethal drugs to the terminally ill patient.

Council member LaRuby May, also a member of the committee hosting the hearing, noted that some residents in her ward are opposed to the measure and that “passion in opposition to this bill is very real.”

However, she dismissed that by saying such opposition “is based on fear.”

Michael Scott, director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, the Committee on Health and Human Services was accepting written testimony through July 24. After that, the committee will compile a report during the July 15-Sept. 15 legislative recess.

By Richard Szczepanowski, who is a staff writer at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

 

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Viewpoint: Hemlock is still suicidal when it’s called compassion

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A campaign to legalize assisted suicide is moving forward in New Jersey, with similar proposals to be introduced in California, Maryland and other states.

The former Hemlock Society, now under the more appealing name “Compassion & Choices,” hopes to pass such bills in a dozen states this year, although its efforts produced new laws in only three states (Oregon, Washington and Vermont) in the past 25 years.

What makes C&C so optimistic? After all, its agenda is the same as always: Protecting doctors who want to prescribe a barbiturate overdose, so their patients can kill themselves. Read more »

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British faith leaders warn Parliament not to legalize assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service MANCHESTER, England — The leaders of Britain’s faith communities have united to warn Parliament against the “grave error” of legalizing assisted suicide. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury joined 21 other of the most senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain faith leaders to protest the Assisted Dying Bill.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

The legislation scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords July 18 was designed to abolish the crime of assisting a suicide by allowing doctors to supply lethal drugs to people expected to die within six months and who are mentally competent. But in a July 16 open letter, the faith leaders said the bill would allow doctors to decide if some people are “of no further value” and that it would place vulnerable and terminally ill people at “increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.” “This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society,” said the letter, signed also by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and Dr. Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. “While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all,” the letter said. The show of unity among faith leaders followed three senior Anglicans saying they supported assisted suicide. Lord Carey, who served as archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, each said they were in favor of the practice. Anglican Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham also has declared his support for “assisted dying,” making him the first serving bishop of the Church of England to say that doctors should be legally permitted to help their patients to commit suicide. “Today we face a central paradox,” Lord Carey wrote July 11 in the Daily Mail newspaper. “In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope.” The Church of England has opposed the bill on grounds of “patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship.” This position, according to the Church of England’s website, is consistent with successive resolutions against assisted suicide by its governing General Synod. In his Daily Mail piece, Lord Carey announced that he would dissent from such policy and vote for the bill. “The fact is that I’ve changed my mind,” he wrote. “The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.” On July 13, Archbishop Tutu expressed similar sentiments in a column for The Observer, a London-based Sunday newspaper. “I revere the sanctity of life — but not at any cost,” the Nobel peace laureate wrote. “Yes, I think a lot of people would be upset if I said I wanted assisted dying. I would say I wouldn’t mind, actually.” However, Archbishop Welby called the Assisted Dying Bill “dangerous.” He argued that an assisted suicide law would exert pressure on the sick, disabled and elderly to “stop being a burden to others.” “What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable and terminally ill person in the country?” he asked in a July 12 article for The Times newspaper. The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have encouraged the laity to write to politicians to ask them to oppose the bill. Catholic Bishops Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Mark O’Toole of Plymouth have issued pastoral letters condemning the bill, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has announced that he will open the churches of his diocese for a “holy hour” of prayer and adoration July 17, the eve of the debate, in the hope that the legislation will fail. Lord Carey was nominated to Britain’s second political chamber on his retirement, but 26 Anglican bishops, including Archbishop Welby, sit there as “Lords Spiritual” and have a right to vote. If the bill progresses successfully through the House of Lords, later this year it will go to the House of Commons, where lawmakers will be allowed to vote according to their consciences. Under the 1961 Suicide Act, the offense of assisting a suicide is punishable in Britain by up to 14 years in prison.

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