To natural death. It’s a phrase we Catholics need to reflect and act on, not just during Respect Life Month in October but always. We’ve seen the horrible laws passed in St. Paul this year concerning the beginning of life. Attacks on the vulnerable at the end of life will now be in focus.
You may hear physician-assisted suicide (PAS) referred to as “medical aid in dying” or specifically a bill number, HF1930/SF1813 — the “End of Life Options Act.” But no matter what sort of linguistic gymnastics are employed, this practice of physicians providing people with lethal drugs to end their lives does not respect life. Instead, it opens a Pandora’s box of dangerous consequences that will end up endangering the health care choices of the rest of us.
Physician-assisted suicide creates pressure on vulnerable individuals to end their lives. It sends a message that only the healthy and able-bodied matter. It undermines the dignity of people living with chronic illness, disability, or nearing the end of life.
When PAS is legal, patients report feeling obligated to request physician-assisted suicide due to societal and familial expectations. According to a Washington State Department of Health annual report, 56 percent of those who requested assisted suicide in 2021 stated that they feared they were a burden to their family, friends and other caregivers. What sort of “option” is it to feel obligated to kill yourself? The right to die will become the duty to die.
This coercion is deeply troubling and undermines the principles of compassion and care that should define our approach to end-of-life decisions.
Minnesota’s proposed PAS bill is one of the most aggressive assisted suicide bills in the country because it lacks meaningful safeguards for older adults and people with disabilities. It has no family notification requirement and requires no witnesses when the life-ending drugs are ingested, which could lead to elder abuse.
The potential for misdiagnoses or errors in determining whether a patient is terminally ill and thus eligible for PAS is a sobering reality. We all know about prognoses that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. We should be offering better care, including pain management, and not hastening death.
This is just a glimpse of the myriad of problems created if we allow physicians to provide people with lethal drugs to end their lives. Is this what doctors are for? What does it mean to turn hospitals of healing into places where you can be killed? Will there be disincentives to providing better care when it is much cheaper to offer someone assisted suicide? Already in Canada, where PAS is legal, people are being offered assisted suicide when they cannot pay their debts or when assistance such as wheelchair ramps are deemed too expensive.
Although the Catholic Church’s stance against assisted suicide and its call for better health care access is unequivocal, we are not alone. The Minnesota Catholic Conference is proud to be a member of the diverse Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Care. We are grateful to partner with fellow people of faith from Muslims and Lutherans to Jews and non-denominational Christians. But the alliance is also strengthened by disability-rights advocates, mental health and medical professionals, veterans’ groups, legislators from the left and the right, and every Minnesotan who shares concerns about the ethical implications of PAS.
We invite you, our readers, to act as individuals and in your parishes. Stand with us to respect life by seeking ways to provide real care throughout life’s journey.
Visit ethicalcaremn.org to reach out to your state legislators and tell them to vote against this dangerous bill. Then, take some time to learn more about why so many diverse partners are opposing the so-called “End of Life Options Act,” and find ways to get involved, such as writing letters to the editor.
To stay up to date on the work of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, join the Catholic Advocacy Network at mncatholic.org/join.