Local Catholic officials have applauded a move by Colorado lawmakers to reject making assisted suicide legal in that western state, saying that such a move highlights that assisted suicide is not the proper way to help the terminally ill.
“The vote in Colorado shows that when time is set aside for a hearing and expert witnesses can testify, then right-thinking people will recognize that these (assisted suicide) proposals need to be rejected,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
She was referring to a Feb. 6 decision by Colorado legislative committee to defeat a measure to make assisted suicide legal. Medical professionals, caregivers, clergy and others testified for more than 11 hours before the lawmakers voted to reject the measure.
“What is most significant about this is that proponents have been working on it (legalizing assisted suicide) for decades, and yet it is consistently rejected over and over again by state legislatures,” Russell said.
Russell said that the decision by Colorado lawmakers “would strengthen our efforts here to make clear that the (legalizing assisted suicide) proposal … introduced in Maryland should likewise be rejected by our legislature.”
A “Death with Dignity” bill introduced Feb. 9 by Sen. Ronald Young (D- District 3, Frederick and Washington counties) and currently before the Maryland General Assembly proposes allowing “a qualified patient to request aid in dying.” A hearing on the measure is scheduled for March 10 at 1 p.m. in Annapolis.
A similar measure to legalize assisted suicide has already been introduced to the D.C. City Council. Last month, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced the “Death With Dignity Act” that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives.
“All across the country there are advocates who are selling suicide as freedom and dignity,” said Michael Scott, director of the D.C. Catholic Conference.
Pointing to efforts to legalize assisted suicide in Maryland and the District, Scott said “in both cases, it is absolutely necessary to hold the legislation under a microscope now to help people understand what is at stake. And it is absolutely imperative for them to voice their opposition to reject assisted suicide over the next few months. It is possible. It is up to all of us."
Proponents of assisted suicide, Russell said, often cite costs to families and to the government associated with treating a terminally ill patient.
“That suggests that anyone facing a terminal illness would inevitably face pressure to choose the least expensive, least burdensome option for their families and the government,” she said. “To think that the only way to assist someone with a terminal illness is to hand them a prescription to commit suicide is the opposite of compassion.”
Russell said that another argument used by those who favor legalized assisted suicide is that it prevents a terminally ill person from suffering pain. She also rejected that reasoning.
“On the surface, a lot of people think it is a matter of alleviating pain. But, the proper way to alleviate pain is with better pain management and expert palliative and hospice care,” she said. “Most people in the medical profession will tell you that it is rare that the medical profession cannot alleviate pain, so the argument that assisted suicide is to alleviate pain does not hold water.”
Currently five states permit assisted suicide. Vermont is the only state in which the legislature voted to make euthanasia legal. Voters in Oregon and Washington State approved it on voter referendums. In Montana and New Mexico, judges have ruled that physicians prescribing life-ending drugs do not face criminal penalties.
Opposition to legalized assisted suicide crosses the political spectrum, Russell said. “There are very different voices and a bipartisan, broad range of opposition to this because of the grave concern of its impact on vulnerable populations, particularly those with disabilities and the poor who have inadequate access to medical care,” she said.