Just last week legislators reintroduced a bill that would authorize assisted suicide in New York State. Assisted suicide means that doctors could legally prescribe a deadly dose of pills at the request of a patient with a terminal diagnosis. Those in favor of assisted suicide may call it “death with dignity” or, as in this bill, “medical aid in dying.” In reality this bill would authorize the direct and intentional taking of human life. Catholic teaching upholds the dignity of ALL human life from the moment of conception to natural death.
Nothing in this proposed legislation to legalize assisted suicide requires that patients be counseled or even screened for clinical depression before they are handed a lethal prescription. Yet mental health professionals know that a large number of suicides could be prevented with the right intervention. New York State recognizes suicide as a critical public health concern, and works to prevent it. Government should not reverse course now and send the message that some suicides are acceptable.
This proposal to legalize doctor-assisted suicide in New York State contains other fatal flaws as well. It allows patients to fill a physician’s prescription for a lethal dose of medication, and then take those pills at home, with no oversight by a doctor or nurse, no witnesses, and no accountability. What if a child got his hands on those pills first? Or what if the patient later changed her mind and decided not to take the pills? What might happen to those pills? And who would know if someone else decided to trick or coerce the patient into taking the pills?
The focus of public policies for those facing the end of their lives should be on providing for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. For that they need better access to quality palliative care. As Pope Francis said, “Palliative care is an expression of the truly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially those who suffer. It is a testimony that the human person is always precious, even if marked by illness or old age.”
There are alternatives to assisted suicide. We need to do all we can to reduce suffering and promote the loving option of palliative medicine and hospice care. We are called to protect the dignity of ALL human lives, from the moment of conception to natural death.
Today you have the opportunity to sign a letter expressing your opposition to assisted suicide. Two copies should be made so that it can to be delivered to your State Senator, your Assembly member, and to Governor Cuomo.
You can also go to the New York State Catholic Conference website to submit the letters digitally.