Help in Dying

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
August 02, 1999

Advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide advance their philosophy and legislative proposals by using terms such as "assist in dying," and "helping to die." This is carefully veiled language that, in a way very similar to the phrase "pro-choice," makes something which is very evil sound very good.

An example of its effectiveness is the following story.

I was stationed in a NY city parish some years ago when a ballot initiative regarding assisted suicide came up in another state. I asked the parishioners to contact any friends or relatives they had in that state, to inform them of how harmful the initiative was. A few days later, one of the parishioners told me she spoke to her daughter, who lived in the state in question, and that her daughter obtained a copy of the various initiatives that were to be voted on. She said that the one I spoke about wasn't listed.

I asked her to send me the list...And right there on the list was the ballot initiative I had spoken of. This woman and her daughter, even when they knew what they were looking for, couldn't find it, because the language was so carefully sugar-coated. The initiative spoke about giving "assistance in dying."

This kind of language blurs the critical moral distinction between giving assistance to a dying person and placing an act which brings about death.

Mother Teresa "assisted" many people "in dying" and "helped" many people "to die." She was present to them, assuring them that they would not die alone. She helped them find the courage to face death, the conviction that their dignity had not been lost, and the serenity borne of receiving love from people and from God. This is the legitimate meaning of death with dignity and of helping people to die. This, in fact, is the Gospel response to the dying members of the human family.

It is another thing altogether to place an act which causes death, claiming that one therefore "helps" the person to escape suffering. While the motive and intention may be good, the means to achieve the end -- directly causing death -- is morally illicit.

Studies clearly indicate that requests for death are withdrawn when the patient receives adequate counseling and pain management. Modern medicine is capable of handling pain and depression. Compassion for the dying demands that we strengthen and extend those services, rather than expand opportunities for ending life.

The pro-life movement is always a movement of welcome and broader inclusion, whether for the unborn or the sick and dying.

No religion, and no pro-life group, advocates that we are obliged to take every single treatment and procedure under the sun to keep us alive. Foregoing a worthless treatment is not, and should not be called, euthanasia or suicide. Yet while there are such things as worthless treatments, there is no such thing as a worthless life. When we remind sick persons of that truth, then we are providing the best "help in dying."

Priests for Life
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