Snapshot of End of Life Issues
Euthanasia from the Greek words meaning “good death” – an action or omission intended to cause death. Euthanasia is not legal in the United States.
Physician Assisted Suicide (PhAS) a physician prescribes lethal drugs for a patient with the knowledge that the patient intends to use the drugs to commit suicide. Oregon (1997), Washington (2009), and Vermont (2013) have enacted laws which allow physician assisted suicide. Court decisions in Montana (2009) and New Mexico (2014) also permit physician assisted suicide in those states.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal in the Netherlands since 2001. There is no requirement that the suffering be physical or that the patient be terminally ill. Abuses of the guidelines designed to protect patients include:
- 80% of euthanasia deaths are not requested by the patient (involuntary)
- Euthanasia has expanded to include infants, the depressed and the chronically ill
- Only 40% of all assisted suicides and euthanasia deaths are reported
Belgium legalized euthanasia and PhAS in 2002. Luxemburg followed suit in 2008. Although euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland, PhAS is legal. In fact a regular tourist trade has developed and 91% of the clients served by Dignitas, an organization dedicated to assisting people commit suicide, have been foreigners.
In the United States, Oregon voters passed a Death with Dignity Act, physician assisted suicide, in November 1994. Safeguards dictated that only patients with less than six months to live and experiencing intolerable pain would be eligible. The Health Division acknowledged that it had no way to “detect doctors who fail to report assisted deaths or commit other violations of the law.” It has been determined that:
- A depressed patient was Oregon’s first known assisted suicide victim
- In 2004 only 5% of patients received psychiatric counseling before being given lethal drugs
- Assisted suicide is paid for by tax dollars - pain management, living assistance for the disabled and some life-sustaining treatments are not covered
- Patients deemed incompetent to handle finances and medical decisions were not denied lethal drugs
- 40% of patients sought more than one doctor before finding one to prescribe lethal drugs
- 86% of all assisted suicide victims obtained the prescription for lethal drugs from physicians who are known advocates of physician assisted suicide
Church Teaching on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
The Catholic Church teaches that human life is the most basic gift from a loving God – a gift over which we have stewardship, not absolute dominion. As responsible stewards of life, we must never directly intend to cause our own death or that of anyone else. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are always gravely wrong.
To sanction the taking of innocent human life demeans the lives of vulnerable patients and exposes them to exploitation by those who feel they are better off dead. Such a policy would corrupt the medical profession, whose ethical code calls on physicians to serve life and never to kill.
“Euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing ‘perversion’ of mercy. True ‘compassion ‘ leads to sharing another’s pain: it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” - Evangelium Vitae, no. 66
“Food and drink are modalities of ordinary care and are not a treatment of disease. Discontinuing nutrition and hydration for a patient who is not imminently dying violates in its intention the distinction between “causing death” and “allowing death.” - Catholic Medical Association, “Bioethical Principles for Medical Practice”
“To the elderly: You are not…on the margins of the life of the Church…you still have a mission to fulfill and a contribution to make.” - Pope John Paul II, March 23, 1984
To ensure that an individual’s wishes will be complied with at the end of life, the Respect Life Apostolate, makes available the End of Life Guide and Durable Power of Attorney.