Give Me Liberty — And Death!

Should a person who is terminally ill with no hope for recovery and no reasonable quality of life be given the choice to end his or her suffering? Not according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

On June 16, the USCCB issued a statement against physician-assisted suicide. The USCCB said that such an act is a “threat to human dignity” and instead urged patients to accept the Christian view that “suffering accepted in love can bring [followers] closer to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of others.”

“Death with dignity,” “compassionate choices,” and “physician-assisted suicide” all refer to ways in which a terminally ill person chooses when to end his or her own life when medical treatment no longer offers any hope of recovery or a quality of living that is bearable to the person. Only three states have officially given the green light to such practices: Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Oregon and Washington have strict regulations that protect the individual and the medical personnel involved in the decision. Montana’s officials are stilling working on its regulations.

I don’t doubt that the Catholic bishops care about human life—but I fail to see the care and compassion that urges acceptance of suffering or the bishops’ refusal to recognize the right of a person to choose when it is time to end his or her own suffering.

Life isn’t just about existence; it is about substance. The USCCB quote the Founders and say that because “life” comes before “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence that “life” is the most sacred of rights. I don’t know why they are in that order, but I do know that denying a person the liberty to choose what to do with his or her life is not the way to ensure that a life is lived to the fullest. It is a denial of free will and a rejection of the fundamental right of self-determination.

The USCCB has no sway over my life or my choices, but as an organization it wields great power over the network of Catholic hospitals, charities, and other Catholic organizations that must abide by its directives and decisions—and therefore over the millions of non-Catholics who are served by these medical institutions and groups every day. And perhaps even more alarming, the USCCB has no compunction about making its religious views political issues for its members and elected Catholic political leaders.

So to the USCCB members, I say take your palliative care and loving acceptance of suffering and keep it. I’ll take the memory of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and end-of-life care in the Northwest, instead.

More information about choice and care at the end of life is available here

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