Physician-assisted suicide ruling denies human dignity and worth
"Insufficient by Itself to Defend the Dignity of the Human Person"
December 19, 2008.
Bishop George Thomas
Diocese of Helena, MT
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 24, No. 12
The era of physician-assisted suicide has been foisted upon us in
Montana. The recent court ruling in District Court by Judge Dorothy McCarter
stated that competent terminally ill patients have the right to obtain
medications that can be self-administered to bring about their death.
McCarter ruled that “the patient’s right to die with dignity includes
protection of the patient’s physician from liability under the state’s
McCarter’s ruling is extremely disappointing. Her ruling echoes
disturbing actions taken in the states of Oregon and Washington, introducing
this blatant disregard for human life into our own state.
The ruling issued Friday, Dec. 5, makes Montana the third state in the
nation to allow physicians to assist patients who wish to die by prescribing
medications with the specific intention of causing death. The proponents of
assisted suicide prefer to call the process “death with dignity” as opposed
to the more accurate phrase of physician-assisted suicide.
“Death with dignity” is an unfortunate euphemism for assisted suicide
because it implies a death in the natural order is not dignified. Death is a
natural process in every human life, culminating in the hope of eternal life
promised to those who walk faithfully in the footsteps of the Lord.
The timing of this court decision could not be more ironic. Recently the
Montana Legislature established a Suicide Prevention Office due to concerns
of the high rate of suicides in Montana, which is the highest per capita in
the nation. The goal was to reduce the incidence of suicide. But we are now
being told that death by suicide is “death with dignity,” in seeming
contradiction to the stated goal of reduction. When we cheapen life by
allowing people to end it when and how they choose, we send a message to
others struggling with suicidal ideations.
Another troubling outcome of this decision is its effect on physicians,
who take the Hippocratic Oath to “first, do no harm.” Does this court
decision not turn physicians into accessories to state-sanctioned homicide?
Judge McCarter’s ruling also raises a third disturbing sentiment, as
reported by the media. During the hearing, she questioned why the state
wouldn’t extend to people the same humane action accorded to sick or injured
pets, that is putting them to sleep. Is the judge intimating that there is
no clear difference between animals and people? Does the court ruling not
recognize the dignity and inherent worth of every person, a worth that is
neither conferred nor removed by the state? If this is the court’s intended
meaning, then we criticize in harshest terms attempts to degrade the
God-given value of every human being. In a word, human life is a gift from
God, who is the author of life and final arbiter of death.
The Diocese of Helena applauds the state Attorney General’s Office for
agreeing to appeal the judge’s decision, and we will assist with an appeal
as a friend of the court. Representative-elect Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, has
said he will introduce legislation in the 2009 session to codify this ruling
into Montana law. Legalizing assisted suicide is a social experiment that we
will work to prevent.
We will also work with the religious, medical and mental health
communities to provide compassionate care for the dying, and surround them
with emotional and spiritual care and medical management of pain to ease
This is, from our vantage, death with dignity.