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Look It Up — Perspectives on assisted suicide


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.