Thanks to the votes of many Catholic legislators, and the signature of a Catholic governor, it will now be legal, in California, for doctors to prescribe drugs to patients with the purpose and intention of killing themselves with these same drugs. I am not familiar with the details of the legislation, but there are no details that can make this something any Catholic can approve of.
Why is this wrong? There are several reasons:
(1) It is always gravely wrong to kill someone, including oneself.
To kill oneself is gravely sinful*; to help someone else kill him/herself is equally as wrong. Suicide is really self-murder; and to help someone commit suicide is to help commit a murder.
(2) This law is wrong because it draws doctors and pharmacists into this sordid business.
Doctors are supposed to be life-givers and healers. It is a very dangerous business of turning doctors into death-dealers; because it invites them to play God. Inviting humans to play God always leads to disaster!
(3) Watch and see what happens next: because this becomes a “right,” it will, before long, become a “duty” for doctors, pharmacists, and even the public to support this right.
How long before this “right” is paid for by health care? How long before pharmacists and doctors are forced to provide this “assistance,” or else lose their jobs? As it is, many medical schools will compel those preparing to be doctors to learn how to commit abortions, their consciences notwithstanding. Inevitably, the same thing will happen here.
(4) This will bring pressure to bear on people with disabilities, as well as people who are aged and ill, to hurry up and “take the pill” and make things easy for everyone else.
What started as a “choice” will become an expectation, and eventually, we’ll see people pushed into death. In Belgium and Netherlands, where “voluntary” euthanasia was legalized over ten years ago, there are well documented cases of doctors “choosing” for the patients.
Here’s what the Catechism says:
Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible….[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator….
Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged (CCC, 2276-9).
But what about ‘choice’?
Our society exalts ‘choice’ as if it’s the highest value, but of course that’s not true. Some choices are terrible and destructive, both to oneself and others. A choice like suicide affects far more than just the person who takes his/her own life. And this law isn’t just about people being able to take their own lives, but also expecting a doctor to assist them.
Devaluing human experience. Part of what’s terrible about legalizing “assisted suicide” is that it effectively says that human life doesn’t count for much when there is suffering or illness or disability. Only when we’re healthy and “on top” does our life count.
What about people being in pain? Everyone who is suffering has the right to have medical care that relieves their pain; and despite what politicians say, there are ample pain-relief options available for nearly all medical situations. One reason many people suffer is because federal drug regulations can be very restrictive, and create legal problems for doctors if they prescribe certain drugs too often. But these regulations can be fixed to ensure that patients in pain have the care they need.
‘Helping to die’ versus accepting death. While our Faith is emphatically against suicide, or anyone being “helped to die” (which is just a euphemism for killing someone), that doesn’t mean people who are facing a terminal condition are forced to undergo burdensome treatments that offer uncertain hope. When someone is near death, it’s not sinful to refuse extraordinary care and intervention. For example, many elderly people have told their loved ones and their doctors that if their heart stops, “don’t revive me.” People who have terminal cancer are not doing wrong if they refuse another round of chemo. This is not sinful; because there is a world of difference between accepting death (when the time comes) and hastening death.
Don’t be complacent!
We may think, well, that’s crazy California; but there are three other states where it’s legal; and sooner or later, someone will advance this in Ohio. Further, we can expect an attempt to impose this through the courts, just as redefining marriage was forced on the country by the U.S. Supreme Court. There are powerful forces at work here. A lot of money stands to be made, and saved, if sick people can be gotten rid of with a couple of pills.
To be crystal-clear: no Catholic can give approval to this – it is a grave sin against the 5th Commandment. Never can this be moral. Never can any Catholic cooperate with it – which means, to vote for it, to endorse it, or to participate in any way.