Prelates Approve Statement on Physician Assisted Suicide

This is a precis (from Zenit) of the important statement from the U.S. Bishops Conference. The full statement (which is too long to reprint here) can be seen at:

Afraid to Die? US Bishops Propose “Infinitely Better Way”

WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 16, 2011 ( The dying process can be frightening, but society can be judged on how it responds to these fears, according to the U.S. bishops in a new document on physician assisted suicide.

The bishops are in Seattle for their spring general meeting and approved today a statement titled “To Live Each Day With Dignity.”

“A caring community devotes more attention, not less, to members facing the most vulnerable times in their lives. When people are tempted to see their own lives as diminished in value or meaning, they most need the love and assistance of others to assure them of their inherent worth,” the statement affirmed.

The document offers a brief history of the development on debates regarding physician assisted suicide. It affirms that — contrary to marketing strategies — the drive to legalize this crime does not enhance the freedom of those with serious health conditions.

“Suicidal persons become increasingly incapable of appreciating options” and have a “kind of tunnel vision that sees relief only in death. They need help to be freed from their suicidal thoughts through counseling and support and, when necessary and helpful, medication,” the bishops declared.

Furthermore, “apparently free choices may be unduly influenced by the biases and wishes of others,” they warned. “By rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, the government implicitly communicates the message — before anyone signs a form to accept this alleged benefit — that they may be better off dead. Thus the bias of too many able-bodied people against the value of life for someone with an illness or disability is embodied in official policy.”


The bishops’ document notes that such a biased judgment “is fueled by the excessively high premium our culture places on productivity and autonomy, which tends to discount the lives of those who have a disability or are dependent on others. If these persons say they want to die, others may be tempted to regard this not as a call for help but as the reasonable response to what they agree is a meaningless life.”

Such a backward view may even lead those who choose to live to be seen as “selfish or irrational, as a needless burden on others.”

The prelates acknowledged that the suffering of chronic or terminal illness is often severe. This suffering cries out for compassion, they stated. “True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem.”

Practical matters

The bishops also warned of a “slippery slope” that begins when life is taken in the name of compassion.

“Dutch doctors, who once limited euthanasia to terminally ill patients, now provide lethal drugs to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, mental illness, and even melancholy,” they noted. “Once they convinced themselves that ending a short life can be an act of compassion, it was morbidly logical to conclude that ending a longer life may show even more compassion.

“Psychologically, as well, the physician who has begun to offer death as a solution for some illnesses is tempted to view it as the answer for an ever-broader range of problems.”

There is also the possibility that government programs and private insurers may limit support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor-prescribed death, the prelates warned. “Why would medical professionals spend a lifetime developing the empathy and skills needed for the difficult but important task of providing optimum care, once society has authorized a ‘solution’ for suffering patients that requires no skill at all? Once some people have become candidates for the inexpensive treatment of assisted suicide, public and private payers for health coverage also find it easy to direct life-affirming resources elsewhere.”

Unfinished business

The bishops’ document affirms: “There is an infinitely better way to address the needs of people with serious illnesses.”

“Respect for life does not demand that we attempt to prolong life by using medical treatments that are ineffective or unduly burdensome,” the bishops clarified. “Nor does it mean we should deprive suffering patients of needed pain medications out of a misplaced or exaggerated fear that they might have the side effect of shortening life.”

But effective palliative care allows patients to “devote their attention to the unfinished business of their lives, to arrive at a sense of peace with God, with loved ones, and with themselves.”

“No one should dismiss this time as useless or meaningless,” the prelates declared.

“When we grow old or sick and we are tempted to lose heart, we should be surrounded by people who ask ‘How can we help?'” the bishops concluded. “We deserve to grow old in a society that views our cares and needs with a compassion grounded in respect, offering genuine support in our final days. The choices we make together now will decide whether this is the kind of caring society we will leave to future generations.”

This entry was posted in Bishops, Pro Life, World Affairs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Prelates Approve Statement on Physician Assisted Suicide

  1. toadspittle says:


    Only tangentially about suicide, fears Toad. More trouble at the rumour mill. This merits serious discussion.
    The priest involved seems to have repented. What more could he do?
    The human ferret is acting rather uncharitably, it would appear.
    But why do such a surprising number of clerics do it anyway? Toad thinks it’s crucifixes.


  2. toadspittle says:

    “Heads should roll..”

    Damian has such a way with words, doesn’t he!


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Why they do it is incomprehensible.

    Why it is covered up time after time at the highest levels, thus ensuring its continuation, is sickening.

    Yet Toad seems to be a little dismissive of “Damian”.

    Mr Whipround wonders if it has anything to do with the allegation that this priest was a padre to Fleet St.

    Dunno really


  4. toadspittle says:

    “Mr Whipround wonders if it has anything to do with the allegation that this priest was a padre to Fleet St. “

    It is exactly for that reason, Mr. W.

    Curiously, Toad has been associated (barely noticeably, to be sure) with just two English Catholic churches in the last 50 years – St Ethelreada’s and Ealing Abhbey. Both have had people who been embroiled in sexual scandals. Two out of two. Impressive.

    Toad’s question is: Has the Catholic Church in Britain (and the high Anglican, to be sure) attracted the wrong type of person to Holy Orders too often? If so, why? And what could be done? (That’s three questions. Ed.).
    Is every country in the world with Catholics in it having this problem? (that’s four questions. Ed.)

    In Toad’s yout, Boy Scout troops notoriously frequently seemed to experience similar difficulties. May still, for all he knows.


  5. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Toad’s questions are entirely relevant though I am unable to offer an answer. Yes the Anglicans are often at it, as I have mentioned previously, with endless shenanigans. You’d think that churches would conduct research into why this sort is attracted to the job.

    I too remember a Scout leader who liked to “wrestle” with the lads. It reminds me of the famous book by Baden-Powell, “Scouting for Boys”.


  6. Gertrude says:

    Whilst not making any excuses – for there are none, the events that Damian Thompson speaks of happened many years ago, and we are looking at this from a 21st century perspective. Like me, Toad is old enough to remember the Church in those days. There was no priestly formation (as there is now), there was no time of discernment prior to entering the priesthood, and certainly no psychological or psychiatric evaluation, as there is now.
    Any young man entering a seminary now faces a much more searching investigation than there ever was all those years ago.

    That is not to say that these things will never happen – such is the nature of some individuals, but it is much less likely now.

    The point I make is that these abuses are unforgiveable, by us, but should not be used as a stick to beat all priests, the majority of whom are undertaking their priesthood with great sense of calling.


  7. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Gertrude makes valid comments about formation and evaluation. I think of UK teachers who for a long time have been subject to precisely that, including an exhaustive police check. This is not foolproof of course.

    Unfortunately, teachers, and perhaps now priests, are easy targets for false accusations by children. Often, when the allegations are proven false, the teacher has no redress whatsoever, and must live with a ruined career. This is because authorities are terrified of legal action; additionally there is near hysteria over anything involving children. It is often forgotten, or suppressed, just how malicious and aware children can be.


  8. toadspittle says:

    Gertrude’s comment above is very acute. Back then, Toad, for example, more or less conned his way into Fleet Street with much exaggeration of his modest abilities. Nobody much bothered to verify his preposterous claims. Doubt if he’d get away with it now.

    He is a strange one to suggest this, but surely nothing is unforgivable?

    He is also wrestling with some sort of idea, re-sparked off after many years by artwork in Spanish churches, that there is something fundamentally perverse about the way Catholicism approaches and displays certain aspects of itself.
    But this notion should go on his own blog, if anywhere. And needs more work.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s