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In the Church's efforts to teach about the grave evil of assisted suicide and the threats it poses, we must use clear and vigorous language. And it is always, always important that we do so with love.
Assisted suicide is suicide. In the few states where it is legal, physicians willing to do so prescribe lethal drugs at the request of patients seeking the drugs to end their own lives. Proponents of assisted suicide use terms like "death with dignity" and "aid in dying." But these are misleading. They are the sickly-sweet phrases of a poisonous ideology that attacks our full dignity and worth as human beings.
These phrases go beyond word games and become flat-out contradictions carefully etched into law. In fact, every state law (and proposed bill) legalizing assisted suicide in this country follows Oregon's law, proclaiming, "the actions taken in accordance with [the law] shall not, for any purposes, constitute suicide [or] assisted suicide." So, according to the law itself, assisted suicide isn't assisted suicide? The only sensible response to this legal blustering must be something like this sentiment from a wise character in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce: "Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on having jaundice."
We should not be seduced by slippery language into ignoring hard truths. The dying process can be painful, messy, full of uncertainty and difficult questions—just like life. But there is death with authentic dignity: dying at peace with God and our loved ones. Dying or terminally ill persons deserve the best care we have to offer, including appropriate treatment of symptoms and pain relief. There is a way to face this process with peace, not by hastening death, but by experiencing the support and loving care that our society should offer to those preparing for death. Assisted suicide, on the other hand, hurts the individual and the entire human family, sending a message that some lives are "completed" or not as valuable as others. We should kill the pain, not the patient.
Truth always walks hand-in-hand with love. It is not enough to say, "suicide is bad." We must also say, "life is good"—especially when life is old, fragile, differently abled, so young and so small our eyes cannot see it, or of a different skin color or place of origin.
We should learn how to best love those who are close to death. We should pray for holy deaths for them and for ourselves, recognizing that Jesus brings us to new life with Him through His death and resurrection. We should pray for the grace to build a true culture of life. And we should affirm the goodness of life in all that we do and say.
Caitlin Thomas is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To read the U.S. bishops' 2011 policy statement on assisted suicide and related resources, visit www.usccb.org/toliveeachday.
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