The Catholic Voices Blog
Assisted suicide on the ballot in Massachusetts
Next week Massachusetts will vote on Question 2, which would allow physician assisted suicide in the state. Cardinal Sean O'Malley has helped lead opposition to this ballot question, arguing that "true compassion does not put a lethal weapon, in this case a prescription of 100 capsules of Seconal, into the hands of a person to help take his or her life." As the American Medical Association has said,
Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.
Opposition to assisted suicide need not break down along partisan lines. To take one prominent example, former Obama administration health care policy advisor Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel strongly opposes the practice. Writing at the New York Times' Opinionator blog, Emanuel notes that discussion of assisted suicide is characterized by "four major falsehoods": that most patients who seek it are suffering from severe pain; that "it is the inevitable result of a high tech medical culture"; "that it will improve the end of life for everyone; and "that it is a quick, painless, and guaranteed way to die." Like Cardinal O'Malley, Emanuel recognizes that the poor and vulnerable would suffer most if assisted suicide made legal:
Whom does legalizing assisted suicide really benefit? Well-off, well-educated people, typically suffering from cancer, who are used to controlling everything in their lives — the top 0.2 percent. And who are the people most likely to be abused if assisted suicide is legalized? The poor, poorly educated, dying patients who pose a burden to their relatives.
When it comes to this issue, Cardinal O'Malley and Dr. Emanuel agree on something else: the need to focus on palliative care. Here's Emanuel:
Instead of attempting to legalize physician-assisted suicide, we should focus our energies on what really matters: improving care for the dying — ensuring that all patients can openly talk with their physicians and families about their wishes and have access to high-quality palliative or hospice care before they suffer needless medical procedures.
As Catholic Voice Mark O'Neill says, we should "focus on eliminating suffering, not eliminating the sufferer."