By Greg Schleppenbach
The movement to legalize doctor-assisted suicide has been gaining momentum in recent years. Since 2015, two states (California and Colorado) and the District of Columbia have joined Oregon, Washington State and Vermont in legalizing the deadly practice. And 28 states had assisted suicide bills introduced in 2017 with a handful coming very close to succeeding. Compassion & Choices, the leading assisted suicide proponent, has a well-organized and well-funded agenda that has been very effective in leading these efforts.
So, where's the good news you may be asking?
Let's start with those 28 states that had bills introduced to legalize assisted suicide. With almost all of these states' legislatures having finished their work for 2017, not a single bill has succeeded so far. This success is largely due to the extraordinary work of broad based and bi-partisan coalitions that include disability-rights, medical, elder, minority, faith-based and pro-life groups.
What's more, the only assisted-suicide-related legislation to succeed this year either prohibits or limits the practice. Alabama, for example, enacted a ban on the practice. Arizona enacted conscience protections for medical professionals (should the practice ever be legalized there).
There has also been good news from the judicial branch of government. In the last couple of years, court challenges to assisted suicide bans in Tennessee, New Mexico, Minnesota, Hawaii and, most recently, New York have all failed. New York's highest court, in a unanimous ruling, affirmed lower court decisions concluding that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide.
The next source of good news comes from the medical profession with the recent and very significant action by the American College of Physicians to reaffirm its opposition to doctor-assisted suicide. Following a nearly two-year, multi-level review of its policy against assisted suicide, the ACP concluded that although there are arguments on both sides, "the ethical arguments against legalizing physician-assisted suicide remain most compelling." Continuing, they say:
"[Physician-assisted suicide] is problematic given the nature of the patient-physician relationship, affects trust in the relationship and in the profession, and fundamentally alters the medical profession's role in society.
Furthermore, the principles at stake in this debate also underlie medicine's responsibilities regarding other issues and the physician's duties to provide care based on clinical judgment, evidence, and ethics. Society's focus at the end of life should be on efforts to address suffering and the needs of patients and families, including improving access to effective hospice and palliative care. The ACP remains committed to improving care for patients throughout and at the end of life."
In addition to the ACP, there are at least fourteen other medical organizations that oppose legalizing assisted suicide. The biggest among them, the American Medical Association, is currently reviewing its policy against assisted suicide and needs to hear from its members that the policy should be retained. AMA members will have an opportunity to weigh in at the group's November House of Delegates meeting in Hawaii.
Opposition to assisted suicide by medical groups plays a significant role in defeating legislation to legalize the practice. Compassion & Choices knows this well, which is why they are working very hard to infiltrate and influence medical groups to, at least, take a neutral stance. We must see to it that they fail in this effort through prayer, advocacy and speaking out for the protection of those whose lives are at risk.
Greg Schleppenbach is Associate Director for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To read the U.S. bishops' 2011 policy statement on assisted suicide and related resources, visit www.usccb.org/toliveeachday.