From Bishop Patrick Neary: Let us uphold the dignity of life

Bishop Patrick Neary C.S.C.

Most of my columns tend to highlight the positive events, celebrations and works of the Diocese of St. Cloud. This one, however, centers on an issue that should be of concern to all us: the growing push for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Minnesota.

Clearly, our concern must be to accompany the terminally ill with our care, concern and compassion. Too often they see themselves as nothing but a financial and emotional burden on their families and loved ones. They understandably fear becoming physically and mentally incapacitated, as well as the pain associated with a terminal illness.

One misconception that we Catholics can have is that we must preserve life at all costs. That is simply not true. We all have the right to receive healthcare and to refuse burdensome interventions that are considered disproportionate and extraordinary.

Thankfully, hospice facilities offer superb and comprehensive palliative care to people suffering from terminal illness. I have yet to hear of anyone who didn’t marvel at how well hospice programs accompany their loved ones who were suffering from a terminal illness.

I sense that a lot of what drives the push for physicianassisted suicide is the fear of death.

American society is considered a death-denying culture. What is also at play is the belief that it all comes down to a standard American value: liberty. It is the idea that you know what’s best for you. It’s your body and your choice, and you should be able to choose the way in which you will die.

This reasoning fails to take into consideration the perspective, grounded in faith, that the moment of death is holy and sacred. It is our crossing over from this world to the next, and our whole lives must be a preparation for the moment we leave this body and meet the Lord. So often the terminally ill, if they are offered spiritual accompaniment and support, no longer fear death but embrace it with joyful expectation.

In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, St. Francis of Assisi wrote “Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.” That line reflects the importance and natural character of death in the life of all creation.

There comes a time in life when we must each surrender spiritually to the moment of our own natural death, as God is the one, not us human creatures, who determines when our life on earth shall end.

In terms of justice, legalizing assisted suicide would disproportionately affect Minnesotans who face severe healthcare disparities: people with disabilities, people of color, indigenous Minnesotans, the elderly and the poor. It is dangerous for our healthcare system, as doctors pledge respect for human life and to never do harm to people in their care. It risks turning our healthcare system from one that cares for others to one that supports ending life.

It also is the case that countries that have legalized assisted suicide, such as Canada, have gone down a slippery slope. Now it is legal for people to choose to end their lives for serious, chronic illnesses that are not lifethreatening, and a move is underway to broaden the law to include mental illness.

A ray of hope can be found in the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, spearheaded by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which is a coalition of 75 organizations including health care providers, disability advocates, mental health experts, faith communities and veterans organizations. This alliance is committed to ensuring real healthcare throughout life’s journey while not hastening death.

Let us join together with all people of goodwill in providing a more humane and dignified approach to endof-life issues. I recommend that you visit ethicalcaremn. org to become familiar with the wonderful work of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare. Let us engage the faithful of our ACCs to come together to educate themselves on the matter at hand, and then proactively engage the legislators who represent our districts in the diocese.

May God bless and guide our endeavors to uphold the dignity of life from conception to natural death.

Yours in Christ, Bishop Patrick M. Neary, C.S.C.


Feature photo courtesy of OSV News.

Author: Bishop Patrick Neary, C.S.C.

Leave a Reply