EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is text of Bishop W. Francis Malooly letter to Delaware state legislators on a proposed physician-assisted suicide bill.
January 16, 2018
Dear Members of the 149′” General Assembly:
I am writing to express my profound concerns with, and the opposition of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington to, House Bill 160, the so called “End of Life Options Act.” Joining us in opposition to this measure are the Medical Society of Delaware, the Delaware Health Care Association, numerous advocates for those with disabilities and members of that community, and thousands of Catholic Delawareans and people from other faith communities.
The Catholic Church is opposed to physician-assisted suicide legislation because it seeks to legalize and normalize the intentional taking of human life; this deliberate activity violates the most basic tenets of our belief in the sanctity of life and simultaneously poses dangers to vulnerable populations.
A truly caring community devotes more attention and support to members at the most vulnerable times in their lives. When the sick, elderly and vulnerable are tempted to see their lives as less valuable, they need the most love and assistance of others to assure them of their worth.
Upon review of House Bill 160, some of our chief concerns follow:
- There is a lack of a sufficient requirement for a psychological examination prior to the life-ending prescription. Under section §2506B of the proposed act (lines 101-106 of the bill) it states the following: “If in the opinion of the attending physician or consulting physician, a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment, the physician shall refer the patient to counseling.” The subjective opinion of an attending or consulting physician, who in all likelihood will not be psychiatrists or otherwise specializing in a similar practice area, is not sufficient to make such a determination.
- No witness is required during the administration of the drugs or at the time of death. While the bill does require that two witnesses be present at the time of the request for assisted suicide, it does not require that a witness be present when the drugs are administered, or at the time of death.
- There are insufficient safeguards for the disabled. Leading disabilities advocate groups are opposed to this bill.
- Family notification is not required in the bill. Though the legislation requires that the doctor recommend that patients advise family members of their decision to commit suicide, there is no requirement in the law for such notification.
- There are not sufficient safeguards against elder abuse. The legislation allows the beneficiary of the patient’s estate to be one of the signatories on the request for the lethal prescription.
- There is no requirement that a doctor, nurse or independently licensed aid worker is present when the patient ingests the lethal dose. Therefore, should something go wrong, any physical or emotional complications must be handled solely by the patient, and those present, if any, at the time of the administration of the drugs.
- The legislation would codify a process whereby the actions of a physician, in knowingly prescribing a lethal dose to a patient, would directly and intentionally bring about the death of another human being. This is a direct violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
- The legislation requires physicians and others to make intentional misstatements on official records. On lines 95-96 of the legislation, it states that”(t)he attending physician may sign the qualified patient’s death certificate. The death certificate must list the underlying terminal illness as the cause of death.” When a person willingly takes his or her own life, it is a suicide, and the means by which that death was brought about, rather than an underlying medical condition, constitute the cause of death.
- The language on lines 186-187 in the legislation wherein actions that clearly constitute suicide are redefined as not constituting suicide is profoundly troubling. Changing the clear and universally recognized definition of a thing, particularly something pertaining to
a matter of life and death, is beyond the ability of the law and, frankly, Orwellian. Whether or not the Delaware Code recognizes that taking a lethal dose of medicine to end one’s life is suicide, does not change the fact that that is precisely what it is. That same section would also redefine what constitutes “assisted suicide” and “mercy killing”, when the actions of the prescribing physician would make the patient’s death a suicide, a mercy killing and an assisted suicide all at one.
As Pope Francis has said “(t)rue compassion does not marginalize anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude, much less consider the disappearance of a person to be a good thing.” Instead, the Pope, relying on Scripture and Church teaching, reminds us that “compassion is the just response to the immense value of the sick person.”
The pontiff also cautioned that the dignity of both human life and the medical profession are at stake: “We must not give in to the functionalist temptation to apply rapid and drastic solutions, moved by false compassion or by mere criteria of efficiency or cost-effectiveness.”
The sanctity of life and the dignity of the individual are objective truths and non-negotiable principles of our faith. The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and its faithful, numbering more than 150,000 in Delaware, oppose House Bill 160, urge you to vote “no” on the measure, and instead direct more State and other resources to increasing palliative care to tl1ose in need of it.
Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly Bishop of Wilmington