Friday, June 17, 2011

A summary: To Live Each Day with Dignity

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a statement on assisted suicide at their recent meeting. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC)recognizes that people oppose assisted suicide for varying reasons and many of these reasons were well explained by the Bishops document: To Live Each Day with Dignity.

The Californians Against Assisted Suicide commented on the USCCB statement by stating:
Californians Against Assisted Suicide coalition member Marilyn Golden, policy analyst for the Disability Rights, Education and Defense Fund, found areas of agreement with the United States Council of Catholic Bishops' recent public policy statement on the dangers of assisted suicide legalization, including:

• The danger to people with depression,
• The concerns of the disability community,
• The significant and dangerous lack of scrutiny and oversight where assisted suicide is legal,
• The potential for undue influence by others,
• The significant ambiguity in the definitions of terminal illness,
• The significant risk to the very people supposedly served: people with serious illness, and
• The importance of continuing improvement in palliative care.

Golden states:
"It is critical that society gains a greater awareness about these concerns."
After reading To Live Each Day with Dignity, EPC decided it would be important to highlight some of its important points.

The document frames the societal response to assisted suicide in the context of the proper response by society to the legitimate fear that an individual has in relation to human difficulties at the most vulnerable time of their life.

The document responds to the concerns of people by breaking it down into specific issues.

The document responds to the question of freedom by pointing out that often people who ask for a lethal dose are doing so as a response to depression or mental illness. The document states that:
“However, suicidal persons become increasingly incapable of appreciating options for dealing with these problems, suffering from a kind of tunnel vision that sees relief in death. They need help to be freed from their suicidal thoughts through counseling and support and, when necessary and helpful, medication.”
The document acknowledges the weak attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to ‘safeguard’ people with depression or mental illness from assisted suicide by stating:
“Many such proposals permit—but do not require—an evaluation for mental illness or depression before lethal drugs are prescribed. In practice such evaluations are rare, and even a finding of mental illness or depression does not necessarily prevent prescribing the drugs (lethal dose). No evaluation is done at the time the drugs are actually taken.”

“In Oregon and Washington, for example, all reporting is done solely by the physician who prescribes lethal drugs. Once they are prescribed, the law requires no assessment of whether people are acting freely, whether they are influenced by others who have financial or other motives for ensuring their death, or even whether others actually administer the drugs. Here the line between assisted suicide and homicide becomes blurred.”
The document concludes the section by stating:
“People who request death are vulnerable. They need care and protection. To offer them lethal drugs is a victory not for freedom but for the worst form of neglect. Such abandonment is especially irresponsible when society is increasingly aware of elder abuse and other forms of mistreatment and exploitation of vulnerable persons.”
The next part of the document focuses on how legalizing assisted suicide devalues the lives groups of people, including people with disabilities. The document states:
“Legalization proposals generally… define a class of people whose suicides may be facilitated rather than prevented. … Many people with chronic illnesses, or disabilities—who could live a long time if they receive basic care—may be swept up in such a definition (terminal illness).”

“By rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, the government implicitly communicates the message … 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 conclusion to this section can be summed up this way:
“Those who choose to live may then be seen as selfish or irrational, as a needless burden on others, and even be encouraged to view themselves that way.”

“Many people with illnesses and disabilities who struggle against great odds for their genuine rights … are deservedly suspicious when the freedom society most eagerly offers them is the “freedom” to take their lives.”
The third part of the document focuses on how assisted suicide threatens authentic human freedom. The comments can be summed up in this way:
“in countries that have used the idea of personal autonomy to justify assisted suicide and euthanasia, physicians have moved on to take the lives of adults who never asked to die, and newborn children who have no choice in the matter. They have developed their own concept of a “life not worth living” that has little to do with the choice of the patient.”
To Live Each Day with Dignity then examines the essence of compassion. The document states:
“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.”
False compassion run amok leads to a “slippery slope.” The document states:
“Dutch doctors, who once limited euthanasia to terminally ill people, now provide lethal drugs to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, mental illness and even melancholy. … the physicians 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.”

“This agenda actually risks adding to the suffering of seriously ill people. Their worst suffering is often not physical pain, which can often be alleviated with competent medical care, but feelings of isolation and hopelessness.”

“Even health care providers’ ability and willingness to provide palliative care such as effective pain management can be undermined by authorizing assisted suicide. … Government programs and private insurers may even limit support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor prescribed death.”
The document ends by emphasizing that there is A Better Way to deal with the problems that naturally exist within the human condition.

The Better Way includes:
1. Society should embrace “the way of love and true mercy” by surrounding people in need with love, support and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.
2. There is no requirement to prolong life by using medical treatments that are ineffective or truly burdensome.
3. We must not deprive people who are suffering the necessary pain medications out of a concern related to side-effects or the possible shortening of life. Providing effective pain relief will not generally shorten life and when provided will alleviate the fear and desperation that may lead to a person considering suicide.
4. Effective palliative care provides time for people to devote their attention to the unfinished business in their lives. This time is not useless or meaningless.
The document concludes by encouraging Catholics to join with other concerned people, including disability rights advocates, charitable organizations, and medical professionals to defend the dignity of people with serious illnesses and disabilities and to promote life-affirming solutions to human problems and hardships. The claim of a “quick fix” by lethal overdose is not a substitute for a caring community.

The document then challenges Catholic people to build a caring society. It states:
“The choices we make together now will decide whether this is the kind of caring society we will leave to future generations.”
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition calls on everyone of good will to recognize how choice is really an illusion.

Legalizing euthanasia will give doctors the right to prescribe death for their patients. It will not grant a right to die, but rather a right to be killed.

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