BRIDGEPORT—A bill in support of Physician Assisted Suicide has now been introduced in the Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly of the State Legislature. So I am joining with Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford and Bishop Michael Cote of the Diocese of Norwich to ask all of the Catholic faithful throughout the state to make your voices heard.
The time has come once again for a mobilization of consciences as we address the moral, medical and social issues that are at stake in this proposed legislation.
While we must vigorously oppose so-called “right to die” legislation and its potential abuses, we must also do all we can to promote compassionate palliative care, which is increasingly recognized as a medically sound, morally appropriate and effective way of dealing with end-of-life-situations.
In the coming weeks, you will hear more about this issue on our website and in our social media efforts, and you will be given the opportunity to sign an online and print petition circulated by the Connecticut Catholic Conference during the last two weeks of this month.
It is also timely to note that we recently observed the annual “World Day of the Sick.” In his message for the occasion Pope Francis says this: “How great a lie…lurks behind certain phrases which so insist on the importance of ‘quality of life’ that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!”
I ask your active involvement and prayerful solidarity in this effort, and I urge you to read the Q&A below, which provides an excellent overview of the issue and the reason both for our opposition to assisted suicide and for the Church’s support of improved palliative care as people struggle with devastating illness.
Let us pray for all those who are ill and embrace them within the faith that represents true compassion, loving care, family support and redemption of their suffering through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Frank J. Caggiano,
Bishop of Bridgeport
Frequently asked questions about Assisted Suicide
What is physician-assisted suicide?
Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a doctor writes a prescription for a patient who has a terminal illness and is told they have only six months to live. The patient then must have the prescription filled at a local pharmacy and self-administer the drug, which in most cases occurs at home.
The physician is almost never present at the patient’s suicide. The physician or another health care professional cannot administer the drug. The patient must consume the medication, which may number around 100 pills, by oneself. The physician’s role basically ends once the prescription is provided to the patient. Physician-assisted suicide is not related to the withdrawal of feeding tubes, intravenous fluids, breathing tubes, etc. The withdrawal of these devices is already allowed under law and under Catholic medical directives.
Is there a difference between “aid in dying,” “death with dignity” and physician-assisted suicide?
No. “Aid in dying” or “death with dignity” are more socially tolerable terms for physician-assisted suicide. These terms are used by advocates of physician-assisted suicide in order to avoid the use of the word “suicide,” which most people find objectionable. Assisted Suicide means nothing more than having a physician provide lethal medication to a patient who wishes to take his or her own life.
How prevalent are physician-assisted suicide laws?
Currently, only three states, Oregon (1994), Washington (2008) and Vermont (2013), have statutes providing for physician-assisted suicide. The most recent attempt through a referendum to legalize physician-assisted suicide was in Massachusetts and this effort was defeated on November 6, 2012. The New Hampshire legislature overwhelming rejected physician-assisted suicide in March, 2014. Over 100 legislative proposals in various states—and numerous referendums—have consistently failed to enact physician-assisted suicide laws. Two states, Montana and New Mexico, allow physician-assisted suicide through court decisions.
Is uncontrollable pain the biggest concern of patients who participate in physician-assisted suicide?
Again the answer is “no.” Actual pain, combined with concern about possible pain in the future, is only a motivating factor in the minority of cases. Although advocates for physician-assisted suicide would like one to believe that uncontrollable pain is the primary reason that individuals seek to end their lives; this is simply not supported by the facts.
In the words of the Oregon Public Health Division concerning physician-assisted suicides in 2013, “As in previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (88.7%), and loss of dignity (73.2%).” Fear of being a burden on family and friends was a concern in 49.3% of the cases, while fear of pain was a concern in only 28.2%.
Does opposition to physician-assisted suicide laws come primarily from religious groups?
No. Supporters of physician-assisted suicide argue that religious groups are its strongest opponents. This also is not true. Although religious groups, such as the Catholic Church and other denominations, strongly oppose this type of legislation and have been known to actively fund efforts to defeat it, many other groups have spoken out loudly against physician-assisted suicide in state after state. Organizations representing the medical, hospice, disability and elderly communities are all strong opponents of this type of legislation. Physician-assisted suicide legislation is also strongly opposed by the American Medical Association. Any effort to call this a religious issue is clearly an attempt to detract from the serious problems relating to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.
Is physician-assisted suicide good public policy?
Many proponents of physician-assisted suicide believe that this procedure is a private personal matter and the state should allow individuals to end their lives if they so desire. The only problem with this thought process is that once a legislature enacts a physician-assisted suicide law, it impacts everyone. It now places the option of suicide on the “table of options” to be considered when a person is facing a serious illness. It presents opportunities for the ill, the elderly and the disabled to be manipulated by those around them who would benefit from their death. The right to die may soon become the responsibility to die for the sick, the elderly and the disabled.
What is the solution to difficult end-of-life situations?
Most people facing a devastating illness are usually seeking true compassion, loving care, family support and quality pain control. Instead of enacting a law that opens up a Pandora’s Box of possible abuses, we as a society should work on refining the existing system of medical care to reflect the 1993 statement of the American Medical Association when it took a position against physician-assisted suicide:
“Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. Patients should not be abandoned once it is determined that cure is impossible. Multidisciplinary interventions should be sought, including specialty consultation, hospice care, pastoral support, family counseling and other modalities. Patients near the end of life must continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy and good communication.”
(For more updates on the current legislation, visit the Connecticut Catholic Conference: www.ctcatholic.org)
Let’s learn more before we leap to a decision.
There’s growing conversation in the Connecticut Legislature about making it legal for a doctor to prescribe drugs to end a patient’s life. Take a minute to learn more about this critical issue and use this site to urge your representatives to do the same.