Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Letters to the Editor

(From the Aug. 18, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Regarding Letters to the Editor

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    The bishops and physician-assisted suicide


    The nation’s Catholic bishops have finally noticed the increasing potency of the movement to have law sanction physician assisted suicide (PAS) and issued a policy statement deploring its increased public acceptance at their annual summer meeting last June in Bellevue, Wash.

    It is an eloquent statement, worth reading. It provides effective counter-arguments to those made by PAS supporters that the issue is a matter of “choice” and “compassion.” Sadly, it fails to grasp that one cannot effectively counter an emotional appeal rooted in the fear many have of dying with rational appeals. The challenge is to find an emotional appeal that resonates more forcefully with the public, regardless of whether one believes in God and an afterlife, and one rooted in hope rather than despair.

    Opponents of abortion on demand finally figured this out and began to turn the tide when they started running ads featuring the child at 20 weeks in the womb, with a beating heart and already human form. Those ads made an emotional connection that underscored their message.

    Preaching about viewing life as ending only with natural death, trusting God and recognizing that there is grace in allowing families assisting one through the final transition carries little weight with some, especially non-believers, and those who don’t attend church on a regular basis, which is especially so in the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its religious independence.

    Too many people fail to recognize one of life’s major goals is the acceptance of an end and the mastering of a philosophy that helps us learn how to die. Our natural inclination is to want to live and breathe as long as we can. Throughout history, many cultures have viewed suicide as an unnatural, anti-life, selfish act that almost always passes on an individual’s personal pain to loved ones.

    The issue gets stickier when proponents say physicians, counter to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should be allowed (and someday, mandated) to provide individuals with the drugs they can ingest to kill themselves. The doctor doesn’t have to witness the death. In fact, no one has to witness the death under Washington’s voter adopted law.

    What we have, though, is the state laying out the criteria (terminally ill, less than six months to live) by which a doctor can write the prescription. If the patients avail themselves of this doctor-explained option (how many may hear obligation, not option?), the law further mandates the doctor signing the death certificate has to list the underlying disease as the cause of death, not the lethal dose of drugs.

    There’s something intrinsically wrong with a law that mandates skirting the truth about the cause of death.

    In reviewing the bishops’ statement, not only was the emotional counter-argument missing, it also lacked an “Action Plan” or even a commitment to develop one that would educate Catholic laity and the general public as to why supporting PAS is truly not in either their or society’s best interest.

    If the bishops are truly serious they will get moving on developing an education action plan. Pray that they do.

    Chris Carlson, Medimont, Idaho

    (Editor’s note: The author was the statewide chairman of the campaign against passage of I-1000 in 2008.)


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