The following appeared in an August 28 Modesto Bee Community Column. Stephen E. Blaire is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Stockton, which includes Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Alpine, Mono and Tuolumne counties.
Dear Assembly Member Susan Eggman:
I have long respected you for the leadership you exercise in creating initiatives that have advanced justice in Stockton, where you served as a member of the City Council and now as a member of the California Assembly.
But I must strongly oppose your introduction of Assembly Bill X2-15, which would authorize physicians to assist individuals to commit suicide in the final days of their journey on Earth. And sadly this bill is being presented in an extraordinary session designed to focus on how the state will fund future Medi-Cal and subsidized health care costs.
As a state legislator, you have spoken to me about the right to choose to die on one’s own terms as an exercise of autonomy. There is no question that personal autonomy and freedom are gifts from God, but they are not absolutes. Believers accept the dominion of God over their lives. As believers, we do not glorify suffering. In fact we want to alleviate suffering and to make the dying person comfortable through palliative care and love.
Today such care is possible, and much more must be done to make comfortable those who are suffering. We may be ready to die, and even want to die, but the final decision is in the hands of God.
People in their illnesses might be so discouraged one day that they want to take their lives, but the next day they can be renewed in spirit and are glad they did not undertake such an action. As pastors and caregivers we often have experienced people on their deathbed become alert and communicate words of love or reconciliation to those around them.
Have we come to the point in our society where there are so few restraints on our human autonomy that we use the gift of our freedom to go against the commandments of God?
Why would it be acceptable to authorize physicians to provide lethal dosages to those who wish to commit suicide when the commandment of God says: “You Shall Not Kill”? Is this form of killing truly “merciful”? Does it not undermine the justice of God, which protects the right of the human person to life through natural death?
Once society enters into the pattern of deliberately terminating life, there is no limit to where this evil might deteriorate. In Oregon there are virtually no controls. Only those who choose to do so report their actions. In Holland the time limits for “qualifying” have been lengthened and the rationale for suicide is broadened to anything one defines as “suffering.”
Some accuse the Catholic Church of wrongly exerting pressure on the Legislature. However, we live in the United States, and the Church has as much right as any other community or organization to seek to persuade. We seek to share our values, moral convictions and experience for what we believe strengthens the dignity of the human person and promotes the common good. We want to be a voice with and for the disabled who fear that they will be manipulated out of the way. We want to be a voice with and for those who believe that human life is an inalienable right and that no one should be tossed aside, especially when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.
Parents may not want to be a “burden” to their children, but they are not a burden; they are a grace that enables their children to “honor their father and their mother.”
I am convinced that ABX2-15 does not promote the interests of the common good and does not protect the poor and vulnerable.