Catholic Bishops Oppose “Death with Dignity” Initiative Petition
Contact: James F. Driscoll, Esq., Executive Director, Mass. Catholic Conference
Attorney General Martha Coakley has today certified Initiative Petition No. 11-12, a petition in support of the so-called “Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act.” Should the petition supporters garner enough signatures of registered voters, and without legislative action, it will be placed on the Fall 2012 ballot. This Initiative Petition is a first step in Massachusetts toward legalizing physician-assisted suicide, effectively authorizing the killing of human beings prior to their natural death. The Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts stand firm in the belief that a compassionate society should work to prevent suicide, which is always a terrible tragedy, no matter what form it may take.
Through the Massachusetts Catholic Conference the Bishops have been monitoring the status of this Initiative Petition as well as the similar legislation that was filed in the House of Representatives earlier this session. They oppose this petition and reaffirm the Catholic Church’s consistent message against the ending of life before its natural conclusion. The Bishops reiterate their Statement issued in 1995 opposing physician-assisted suicide: “the Roman Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts are strongly opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide because it is contrary to the good of persons and contrary to the common good of this State. For once a society allows one individual to take the life of another based on their private standards of what constitutes a life worth living, even when there is mutual agreement, there can be no safe or sure way to contain its possible consequences.”
With regard to the topic of care for the dying, the basic principles of Catholic teaching are often misunderstood. Because the Church opposes both euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is often said that we believe that all possible measures should be used to keep individuals alive. This is decidedly not the case. Individuals and caregivers have a responsibility to preserve human life through care and medical science. However, this responsibility has moral limits. Extraordinary means that may not alleviate the underlying condition and may excessively burden the patient are not obligatory. Moral decisions about the extent of care should be made in terms of the benefit that may be offered and the burdens that may be imposed, assisted by the medical professional’s judgments and a person’s sense of what is appropriate.
As recently as June of this year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed the Church’s stance on physician-assisted suicide in an official document titled; To Live Each Day with Dignity. In it, the USCCB affirm that “a society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms.” We cannot allow for the possibility that government agencies or insurance companies will have an influence on the decision as to whether or not a person’s life is worthy of being sustained.
For more information, please see:
1.) Massachusetts Catholic Bishops’ Statement to the Joint Legislative Judiciary Committee 3 (April 6, 1995), available at http://www.macathconf.org/Archives1995BishopsStatementsPASApril06.pdf
2.) Testimony presented to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary by Edward F. Saunders, Jr., Esq., Executive Director, Massachusetts Catholic Conference, February 23, 2010, available at http://www.macathconf.org/10-TestimonyEdAssistedSuicideFeb23FINAL.pdf
3.) United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide, available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/assisted-suicide/to-live-each-day/
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference is the public policy office of the Roman Catholic Bishops in the Commonwealth, representing the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester.
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