Catholic bishops slate assisted suicide


The Catholic Church, one of the most consistent opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia, has fired two broadsides in Australia and the US. In Sydney Cardinal George Pell, an Oxford PhD with a high profile, issued a letter denouncing euthanasia, as it is on the agenda in several Australian parliaments. He warned of a slippery slope:

One important part of the Catholic task today, which we share with clear-headed humanists and humanitarians, is to explain that just as winter follows autumn legislation to allow voluntary euthanasia or mercy killing would lead to widespread involuntary euthanasia, with many, perhaps a majority of those euthanized being subject to the procedure without their consent and often against their will.

In the US, Catholic bishops issued a long-anticipated statement on physician-assisted suicide. “To Live Each Day with Dignity” is more philosophical and ethical and theological. Its main targets are individualism, radical autonomy and false compassion. It argues that suicide is evidence of social failure to care for the disadvantaged, disabled and lonely. What society must offer, it says, is “a readiness to surround patients with love, support, and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering”.

Physician-assisted suicide does not promote compassion because its focus is not on eliminating suffering, but on eliminating the patient. True compassion, it contends, dedicates itself to meeting patients’ needs and presupposes a commitment to their equal worth.

PAS also undermines patients’ freedom by putting pressure on them to choose death, once society has officially declared the suicides of certain people to be good and acceptable while working to prevent the suicides of others. Undermining the value of some people’s lives will undermine respect for their freedom as well, the statement says, citing countries such as the Netherlands where voluntary assisted suicide has led to involuntary euthanasia.

The bishops appealed to the Declaration of Independence which declared that every human has an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “The right to life is the most basic human right. Other valued rights—the right to vote, to freedom of speech, or to equal protection under law — lose their foundation if life itself can be destroyed with impunity.”

Barbara Lee Coombs, the president of Compassion & Choices, the most influential assisted suicide lobby group, denounced the statement as an effort to impose religious agenda on Americans. She warned that the statement foreshadowed a “widespread political campaign” to restrict patient access to end-of-life choice and “shame and scold the people who support aid in dying”.




 
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