Compassion & Choices, a national organization that advocates for legalization of assisted suicide, has Iowa on its radar screen in 2017. Concurrently, the American Medical Association is pondering the issue of doctor-prescribed suicide and whether to remove a longtime ban on this practice. As Catholics, we need to send a clear message that choosing to end one’s life is wrong, and assisting with someone’s suicide cannot be condoned. It is the destruction of life, as Iowa’s Catholic bishops make clear in a statement on the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) website (www.iowacatholicconference.org).
The statement and subsequent editorials by each of Iowa’s four bishops appeared this past summer in The Catholic Messenger. The bishops’ compelling arguments on how society ought to approach death and dying were precipitated by efforts in 2016 to persuade the Iowa Legislature to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. The measure did not advance, but some lawmakers vowed to bring the issue back in the next legislative session, which begins in January.
Meanwhile, a Catholic News Service article in this week’s paper (see Page 6) reports on the District of Columbia City Council taking the first step on Nov. 1 toward approving assisted suicide legislation. Why should we care? Because that vote gives momentum to a movement that attracts people who want to control their deaths. The article also notes that Iowa is among the states Compassion & Choices is targeting in 2017.
Who among us doesn’t have a tinge of fear about what our personal dying process might be like?
The ICC, the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, acknowledges that people don’t want to suffer and are concerned about the possibility of painful medical procedures and being hooked up to life-support machines indefinitely. They don’t want to be a burden to their families. The concept of benefit vs. burden comes into play for Catholics as they and their loved ones confront death and dying. Allowing death to occur naturally is withdrawing treatments that no longer help patients but may actually be harming them. Hospice and palliative care make it possible for pain and suffering to be relieved in ways that respect Catholic teaching. And, as believers, our Catholic faith teaches us to trust that God continues to accompany us on our earthly journey and into eternal life.
Five states — Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California and Montana — and one county in New Mexico permit doctor-prescribed suicide. More than 140 legislative proposals in 27 states have been attempted, but failed, according to “No DC Suicide” website. Compassion & Choices isn’t giving up. And Catholics shouldn’t give up voicing in the public square that true compassion means allowing death to happen naturally, on God’s time.
Workshops have been launched to help Iowa’s Catholics understand church teaching on Advance Care Directives from a Catholic perspective and to train consultants to reach out to fellow parishioners on end-of-life planning. One was held Oct. 28 in Davenport. If you’d like to consider becoming a facilitator in your parish and help guide fellow parishioners in end-of-life planning from a Catholic perspective, contact Colleen Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another way to get involved in heading off doctor-prescribed suicide is to respond to ICC action alerts. A current action alert addresses the American Medical Association’s (AMA) House of Delegates. That body adopted a resolution in June to consider changing the AMA’s decades-long position against doctor-prescribed suicide to be one of “neutrality.” At its interim meeting Nov. 12-15 in Orlando, Fla., the House of Delegates will hold an open forum, which gives AMA delegates and alternates an opportunity to speak out on this and other topics. Opposition to doctor-prescribed suicide by national and state medical associations has been critical to preserving laws against the practice, said ICC Executive Director Tom Chapman. Here is the link to express your opposition to doctor-prescribed suicide: https://www.votervoice.net/ ICC/campaigns/48192/respond. As stewards of God’s creation, Bishop Martin Amos reflects, “we have the privilege of caring for the gift of life, even in the midst of dying. We are called to tend the garden of our lives with gratitude, humility, and trust in the One who made us, redeemed us, graces us along the way, and calls us to everlasting life.”
Barb Arland-Fye, editor