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Assisted suicide: A Catholic perspective

June 19, 2015
Vicki Evans

Another physician-assisted suicide bill is moving through the California state Legislature. Thankfully, its passage is being impeded by effective practical arguments advanced by a coalition of at-risk interest groups, including disability rights groups, organizations of medical professionals, advocacy groups for the poor and the elderly.

It’s also important to consider the case against assisted suicide from the perspective of the Catholic Church. Although arguments based on religious convictions may not necessarily resonate with lawmakers, they should be very important to Catholics from the standpoint of our eternal salvation. As people of faith, we may want to look at this issue through a lens of faith, rather than being tempted to accept appeals to personal autonomy, independence and self-determination.

Assisted suicide is rooted in the false belief that death represents the end of all suffering. But this is not what the church teaches about life after death. We know “through faith, that death is not necessarily the end of all suffering, and that eternal life is not inevitably achieved by death, but requires the forgiveness of sins and the atonement for sin through the acceptance of our own suffering – either before or after death – in union with the redemptive suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Dr. George Isajiw, past president, Catholic Medical Association.

Studies confirm that most who have turned to assisted suicide do not do so because of intractable pain. Modern pain control techniques and palliative care are generally quite effective in alleviating physical pain. However, suffering is more profound than physical pain. It involves enduring fear of the circumstances of our death, fear of the dying process, fear of the unknown, fear of the loss of loved ones.

Those who have chosen assisted suicide have documented the anguish they and their families experience over choosing the date they will die. Will it be too early? Will it be too late? The problem of timing has been a running theme at conferences held by the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies, a collection of 51 member organizations that advocate for right-to-die laws in 23 countries. Rather than enhancing freedom and personal autonomy, the right-to-die movement had made its adherents responsible for the timing and circumstances of their own deaths.

It’s so much simpler to trust in the love and mercy of God and let him decide.

Evans is coordinator of Respect Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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