By Tom Grenchik
Those who peddle death as the answer to every social problem will bend over backwards to look reasonable and compassionate.
Take, for example, the issue of assisted suicide. The so-called "right" to take one's own life is heralded as a compassionate answer to a disability, a terminal illness, a degenerating health condition, depression, or simply a desire to not want to go on any longer. We who oppose suicide for those most in need of real compassion are accused of trying to limit the rights of others. And so, showing love and true concern for the neighbor in need is now labeled as extremism. But who are the true extremists?
A handful of U.S. states and our Canadian neighbors have now codified assisted suicide as a legal "right." Who has benefitted from this new found "right?" Rather than increasing options for those facing illness or disability, the lower cost of assisted suicide seems to be influencing the amount of medical care given to those in need, especially those most dependent on government assistance.
With increasing frequency, we hear stories of patients being refused treatment or help with daily living, while being offered assisted suicide instead. Just last month, a terminally ill Canadian man sued his hospital and several governmental agencies claiming that he was denied proper medical care, but instead offered assisted suicide. There are similar examples in the U.S. in states that have legalized assisted suicide. Patients are being told their insurance won't cover life-sustaining treatments, but the insurance companies are happy to mention that assisted suicide is indeed fully covered. And if death is a cheaper option than good pain control, there will be much less incentive to provide or improve palliative or hospice care, to keep people comfortable and cared for as they near the end of their lives.
Those most likely to be pressured to end their lives are the people who are poor, marginalized, and members of minority communities—those with less access to quality health care or with no one to advocate for them.
And so, the "right" to die can quickly become an expectation to die or even a "duty" to die. Once deemed a burden on society or a waste of limited medical resources, those most in need will be offered the fewest options, with death sadly portrayed as the best bargain of all.
Time is running short before further efforts to legalize and promote assisted suicide inevitably ramp up nationwide. Volunteer with your diocesan respect life office or your parish's outreach to those who are homebound. Assist your state Catholic conference in fending off attempts to legalize assisted suicide. Demonstrate through your words and actions toward those around you how much you treasure them. And pray hard that our world will value and uphold the dignity of every human life.
Tom Grenchik is the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Learn about the Church's teaching on end of life care at www.usccb.org/toliveeachday.