NCPD OPPOSES PHYSICIAN ASSISTED SUICIDE:
AFFIRMS THE DIGNITY OF ALL PERSONS
NCPD calls on our whole Catholic faith community to remain united in affirming the dignity of every person—regardless of their disabilities or capacity for independence. NCPD staunchly refutes historic notions of the concept of "life unworthy of life."
Current physician-assisted suicide (PAS) discussions happening around the country and the world remind us of what Pope John Paul II (Evangelium Vitae 64) identified as "The Culture of Death" which he said "sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value.” This is the crux of physician-assisted suicide, despite claims from PAS proponents who frame it as aid in dying for terminally ill individuals in the final stage of life, and a matter of self-determination.
Physician-assisted suicide has become marketed as "death with dignity"—directly refuting the value of life of the most vulnerable amongst us. Therefore PAS legislation poses a direct and grave threat to life specifically for individuals with disabilities, elders, and individuals needing supports and assistance.
We are talking about situations of a personal nature, highly sensitive and extremely distressig. May we pray together for all those who are sick, elderly, facing terminal diagnoses and end-of-life decision making, and affirm the inherent dignity in all the moments of life. We share with you the USCCB prayer resources (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/assisted-suicide/to-live-each-day/upload/prayer-resources.pdf)
Regarding the status of Physician-Assisted Suicide as it is debated in state legislatures across the country...
Most recently, on July 7, 2015, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability has prevailed in its efforts, working with numerous national and local disability advocates, in convincing the California Assembly's Health Committee to reject the legalization of physician assisted death, a proposal that already passed the state Senate. and is pushed back until next legislative session. On June 18, 2015 "LD 1270: An Act Regarding Patient-directed Care at the End of Life" was defeated in Maine. This brings the total of legislatures that have considered but not legalized PAS to EIGHT: CA, CT, DE, MD, NH, NY, UT, and WY.
The following legislatures are still considering PAS
AK, MA, MN, MT, NC, NJ, PA, RI, TN, WI, and DC. Furthermore, the state legislators where the issue has stalled have stated that a revised piece of legislation will be presented in the next legislative session. Coalitions composed of disability advocates and organizations, medical personnel, social service personnel, and faith communities have taken the lead in numerous states to oppose efforts to legalize PAS. We encourage you to join the advocacy movement and connect with the Catholic Conference in your state: http://www.nasccd.org/directory/index.html.
The following are highlights of NCPD's concerns regarding the effects of legalization of PAS on individuals with disabilities, elders, and other vulnerable citizens:
Physician-assisted suicide legislation market “comfort-care” in dying. However, based on the data from Oregon and Washington, the number one reported cause of the request for PAS is "loss of autonomy." NCPD affirms the dignity of every person—regardless of the differing abilities or degrees of perceived “dependence.” We must remain anchored in unconditional respect for their human dignity, beginning with respect for the inherent value of their lives.
Individuals with disabilities, and in particular those with cognitive impairments, have been routinely precluded eligibility for life-saving treatment (in the name of health care rationing) based on a stereotypical perception of a “lower quality of life.” Physician-assisted suicide continues to promote the negative and damaging stereotype of a life unworthy of living and takes it to the extreme step of recommending termination based on fear of “loss of autonomy” and other perceived “disability” attributes such as dependence/ burden for caregivers.
Individuals with disabilities have historically been targeted by the medical system through sterilization, euthanasia, and abortion. There are dangerous historical precedence in our not distant past—legislators must listen to and learn about this from disability advocates. This shameful history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.
Legalized physician-assisted suicide quickly becomes just another form of acceptable “treatment” and as such, will always be the cheapest option. In a cost-conscious healthcare environment, that provides economic incentives for healthcare rationing, the healthcare system will support death over healing and individuals with disabilities will be disproportionately impacted.
Physician-assisted suicide poses a threat to those living with or having acquired disabilities, and those who are in vulnerable circumstances. When physician-assisted suicide becomes a legal option, explicit and implicit pressure is placed on vulnerable individuals to accept that option. Rather than being the “personal choice” hailed by proponents, soon caries an implied “duty.” People respond strongly to the personal fear of “being a burden.” There is absolutely no way to regulate against or adequately monitor implicit or explicit coercion. The attempts of the bills to have two-person witnesses is an attempt at “oversight” in name only.
Suicidal thoughts remain at very high levels for individuals with terminal illness and elders -- historically diagnosed as depression. Most cases of depression can be successfully treated. However, legislation does not require treatment of underlying depression. Referrals to psychiatrists are only required in cases where the physician perceives resulting in impaired decision making capacity.
Incidents of murder, coercion, etc. are unreportable. Death Certificates will not note cause of death as lethal dosage. Event data (how, when, how long the process took) is only captured in the exceptional cases where Doctors are present. There are no methods of acceptable oversight and data recording to protect the most vulnerable citizens including individuals who may be isolated and alone in nursing homes or other institutions.
For guidance on this critical matter of conscience, we refer you to the following links:
NCPD supports the immeasurable value of every human life. We believe that we, as a faith community, must reach out to support individuals and families going through traumatic moments at the end of life. We believe that our legislators, medical professionals, hospice and direct support workers can do better by our families, friends, neighbors, patients in need and can adequately provide true “comfort care” and end-of-life support.