Violations Against the Dignity
of Human Life: Doctor Assisted Suicide

By Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan
May 1996 issue of The People of God - the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

I tend to be a fairly positive person and try to see events in our community and in the nation in an optimistic light. But sometimes it's very hard to keep the positive outlook.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit ruled that a Washington state statute banning assisted suicide is unconstitutional. A similar decision was made by a New York court in April.

Somehow these two courts have decided that anyone who is seriously ill has a constitutional right to physician assisted suicide. These decisions in effect grant doctors a license to kill patients requesting it. Never before has our nation sunk so low. These decisions will of course be appealed to the Supreme Court. One shudders at the thought, recalling what they did with the abortion issue in Roe vs. Wade.

These decisions will further erode the dignity of human life. As Christians we know that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We believe it is morally sinful to kill another person. Whether it is called euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, it is really the same - killing.

There is a world of difference between causing someone to die and in allowing them to die naturally. Traditional Catholic moral theology has always made a distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life. We are required to use ordinary means of sustaining life such as normal feeding and basic care, but the Church has never taught that it is necessary to use extraordinary means to preserve life.

Rather than assisted suicide when there is a great deal of pain, Christian ethics allows for extensive use of pain medicine, teaches that the patient be kept comfortable and does not require any artificial means of continuing life.

Proposing euthanasia as the solution is a slap in the face of the sick and elderly. It is telling them that their lives are not worth living and that they should take advantage of physician assisted suicide.

Jesus told us that we who follow Him would often find ourselves at odds with the secular world. Let us do all we can to protect the dignity of human life at every level. Let us work and pray that efforts to promote assisted suicide in our land will fail. God and only God is the author of life.