The “Death with Dignity” movement has arrived in Iowa. Promoters of legislation that would allow terminally ill Iowans to end their own lives are holding a rally Jan. 27 in Des Moines. They’ll lobby legislators to expand end-of-life options for Iowans. The movement appeals to people focused on the here and now, on orchestrating the terms of their own deaths. Death with Dignity — a euphemism for doctor-prescribed suicide — offers something every human being longs for: a peaceful death. Ingest a doctor-prescribed pill and everything is finished. No pain, no torment, no loss of self-control. No dependency, no sense of being a burden. But as Catholics, we recognize that this is a false sense of peace, devoid of the hope that comes from faith in a Triune God who promises life everlasting!
Introduced a year ago, the Iowa Death with Dignity Act is modeled after Oregon’s law. The Iowa bill was referred to the Committee on Human Resources and remains there. That could explain supporters’ efforts to stir the bill out of dormancy. A one-page fact sheet produced by Colorado-based Compassion & Choices (www.compassionand
choices.org) contains bullet points of eligibility for “medical aid in dying.” For instance, a candidate must be a terminally ill Iowa adult with a prognosis of six months or less to live. The individual must be mentally capable of making health care decisions, act voluntarily and be able to self-administer and ingest the lethal medication. Other requirements include two oral and one written request, at least one witness who is not related to or could profit from the terminally ill patient’s death, a two-day waiting period and two physicians to sign off on the request.
The Catholic Church teaches that life is sacred from womb to tomb and that no one has the right to end life — their own or anyone else’s. Beyond that fundamental belief, the church has grave concerns about Death with Dignity legislation. “Because of the possibility of coercion and abuse, we think passing this type of legislation would make life more perilous for those who are sick or elderly,” says Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). The ICC is the public policy voice for Iowa’s bishops.
Clearly, fear is one of the driving factors in the Death with Dignity movement. “People don’t want to suffer and are concerned that they’ll be painfully hooked up to life-support machines indefinitely. Many wrongly believe that the church says that life-support systems can never be removed,” the ICC states on its website (http://tinyurl.com/hk6gxaw) where they also clarify Catholic teaching in regard to life-support choices.
We need to address the issue of pain and suffering. “Medical and hospice care is such today that much pain and suffering can be relieved in acceptable ways,” the ICC statement says. That last sentence should be emphasized in every discussion of end-of-life issues because it speaks to people’s lack of knowledge about palliative care. If people’s personal experience or the experience of a loved one receiving palliative care has been poor, then we as a nation must work toward providing better training and practice in this growing field.
As Christians, we are called to journey with the dying. We are called to listen to them as they express what is most important to them, as they name their goals and desires as their life in this world draws to an end. We are called to witness to the truth that death is a normal part of life, a mystery to be sure, but not a problem that needs to be perpetually fixed. And, yes, we are called to share the Good News, even — especially — in the midst of suffering. Our hope comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. As Catholics,” the ICC says, “we believe we are ultimately responsible to God for the stewardship of our life. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us all a welcome message of hope.” Living in hope does not mean that life will be free of pain or disability; it does mean holding on to the truth that we are never abandoned in that suffering. Let’s live that belief! Let us be a “com-passionate” people; those willing to “suffer-with” others. We can’t fix things, but we can be present to the dying. Sometimes that means sitting still and taking a cue from the one who is dying. No one wants to be abandoned in death, so be there for them — a loved one, a parishioner who has no other family.
Finally, contact your Iowa legislators and tell them to oppose the Death with Dignity bill. It takes the life out of Iowa.
Giving witness to
a culture of life
At the same time some people are promoting end-of-life options many others are promoting life-giving options. During the Midwest March for Life, held Jan. 16 in Des Moines, participants vowed to be the voice of the voiceless — the unborn, the infirm and the elderly. Jan. 22 is the March for Life in Washington, D.C., a peaceful demonstration that seeks to overturn “the greatest human rights violation of our time, legalized abortion on demand.”
Beyond marching and commending the marchers, we are compelled to consider how we build the culture of life. The U.S. bishops ask us to ponder this question: “Are we the kind of people whom a woman could and would come to if she found out she were pregnant and needed loving support and encouragement? The bishops offer a list of 10 ways to support a woman when she’s unexpectedly pregnant. Go to http://tinyurl.com/q349grk to see the life-affirming suggestions.
Barb Arland-Fye, editor