With assisted suicide legal, LA archbishop calls for end of life care

Assisted suicide will change California for the worse, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said on Wednesday, adding that Catholics and others must take action to show they will care for the ailing, not aid in killing them.

Jun 10, 2016

LOS ANGELES: Assisted suicide will change California for the worse, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said on Wednesday, adding that Catholics and others must take action to show they will care for the ailing, not aid in killing them.

“With the new ‘End of Life Options’ law we are crossing a line – from being a society that cares for those who are aging and sick to a society that kills those whose suffering we can no longer tolerate,” the archbishop said June 8.

“Our government leaders tell us that granting the right to choose a doctor-prescribed death is compassionate and will comfort the elderly and persons facing terminal and chronic illness,” he said.

“But killing is not caring. True compassion means walking with those who are suffering, sharing their pain, helping them bear their burdens. Loving your neighbor as yourself is not a duty we fulfill by giving our neighbor a lethal dose of pills.”

On June 9 California became the fifth state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications, when a law passed in 2015 was implemented. Lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.

The state’s proposed law was defeated in committee during the legislature’s 2015 ordinary session, but then passed in a special session later that year.
The push for assisted suicide drew significant media attention in 2014, when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of legal physician-assisted suicide. Maynard had been given six months to live due to an aggressive brain tumor.

Archbishop Gomez exhorted Californians to pray and work to “rebuild a culture of human dignity in the face of this unjust law.”

“We need to proclaim and demonstrate by our actions that all human life is precious and sacred and is worthy of our care and protection, from conception to natural death,” he said.

“A person does not stop being a person, does not lose his or her dignity or right to life, just because he or she loses certain physical or mental capacities. Indeed, it is when people are most vulnerable that they are most in need of our compassion and love.”

The archbishop challenged the foundations of the law and warned of its consequences.

“Giving doctors a license to kill is not leadership on health care,” he said. “Let us pray for our great State of California as we enter this new moment.”

He asked whether there will soon be efforts to offer “compassionate choices” to those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

“The logic of assisted suicide leads inevitably to the government and corporate administrators essentially deciding which lives are worth saving and caring for and who would be better off dead,” he warned. He said these decisions will follow arbitrary criteria and favor the strong and the powerful over the weak and less influential.

“This is the beginning of tyranny,” he said, adding: “With this new law, we are abandoning our most vulnerable and frail neighbors – dismissing them as ‘not worthy’ of our care and as a ‘drain’ on our limited social resources.”

Archbishop Gomez said assisted suicide “represents a failure of solidarity.” He predicted it will increase isolation and loneliness in society, and will worsen health care inequalities, given that the poor and elderly have fewer options and worse access to palliative care.

“In a state where millions are forced to rely on government-subsidized care, who can imagine the government will continue paying for months and perhaps years of costly treatments rather than prescribing a cheap bottle of suicide pills?” Archbishop Gomez asked.

The archbishop reminded doctors, nurses, health administrators, hospitals, and health care facilities that the law protects their consciences and does not compel cooperation.

“The proper response to an unjust law is conscientious objection. And this is an unjust law,” he said. “Helping patients to kill themselves denies patients their dignity and diminishes the humanity of those entrusted to care for them. Medical professionals are called to be servants of life, not dispensers of death.”

He said there will be continued problems in California health care that make people afraid to grow old or become disabled. Nursing home workers will still be “overworked and underpaid” with working conditions that impede quality medical care, and medical schools will still fail to provide proper training in palliative care and end-of-life treatment.

“These are the real issues that make the prospect of terminal illness and dying so frightening to people in California,” he said, appealing for political and medical leaders to address these concerns.

The archbishop prayed that God will give the courage “to do what is right” and that the Virgin Mary will help us see “that we are all brothers and sisters called to love and care for one another.”--CNA

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