Homily on Assisted Suicide by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez on November 9, 2015
Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has everyone talking about his worldview and his encouragement that each person get involved to combat what he calls the “throw-away culture.”
In a throw-away culture, the Pope tells us, we throw things away — we get rid of them — if they aren’t immediately useful or if they have no value to us. That includes people. Especially people who are a burden or an inconvenience — like the sick and the elderly and the disabled.
This mentality of the “throw-away” culture is one of the roots of “euthanasia” and “physician assisted suicide.” With euthanasia and assisted suicide, society basically says that some people’s lives just aren’t worth living and they would be better off dead.
The California Legislature has passed, in special session, AB 2x-15, that would allow patients who are terminally ill and no longer want to live, to kill themselves through a lethal prescription. At this time, Californians have filed a referendum to overturn this law and ban assisted suicide.
This bill is bad public policy, and it is opposed by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the bishops of California, and the leading organizations of doctors and nurses in the state. It’s also opposed by persons with disabilities and by those who work to provide health care to the poor.
As Catholics, we have a long tradition of helping people — the poor, the old, the sick. And as Catholics, we need to be people of compassion and people of mercy.
Pope Francis tells us: “Human life is always sacred, valuable
and inviolable. As such it must be loved, defended and cared for.”
That’s our duty as Catholics and as neighbors and family members. We need to treat every life as sacred and important and valuable. We need to love people — especially those who are poor and sick and who can’t take care of themselves. We need to love these people, defend their dignity and take care of them.
So we have to reject assisted suicide — which tells us that some lives are not important and not worthy of being cared for. We have to reject assisted suicide — which says we should kill patients rather than comfort them and ease their suffering and pain.
We all know that people in chronic pain and people with terminal illness often feel lonely, depressed and feel that they are a burden to their loved ones and friends.
Our reaction can’t be to kill them. And we can’t call that “compassion.” No, instead, we have to walk with them, accompany them.
There are good medical and pastoral solutions available for both chronic pain and depression. Our duty as neighbors and as Catholics is to promote these solutions and to help people to
1 find those solutions. We have to help them to get the treatment
, the palliative care they need for their pain.
If we permit assisted suicide we are sending the wrong signal — not just to the dying and the chronically ill. If we allow assisted suicide, we are telling anyone who is weak, dependent, vulnerable or poor that they are a burden and that it would be better if they just went away. We are saying that death is better than compassion to those who cannot defend themselves.
Doctors often report that the “decisions” made by dying patients are not actually their own idea. Often patients are influenced or manipulated by family members, no matter how well meaning.
In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, there was a case of a doctor who refused to give suicide pills to a patient. The doctor felt the patient was being pressured into suicide by an aggressive daughter who was tired of taking care of her mother. So this doctor refused. But the daughter just took her mother to another doctor. And he wrote the prescription for the suicide pills. The mother took the pills and was killed.
There are also financial and economic pressures driving assisted suicide.
There is another story from Oregon, about a cancer patient named Barbara Wagner. Her insurance company told her it would not pay for the drug she needed to treat her cancer — but said it would pay for the pills she needed for assisted suicide.
This is what it means to legalize assisted suicide. This is not what we want for our families and our elderly here in California.
So two things: First, we need to keep working to stop assisted sui
cide in California. There are people outside of Mass today with petition forms that you can sign to qualify the referendum for the ballot in 2016.
Also, educate yourselves and your family on end of life teaching. You can do that through the website the Archdiocese set up: www.ahardpill.org.
And second, we have to build a culture of compassion. We have to be more patient, more caring with those who are sick and frail and elderly. Just because people stop being healthy doesn’t mean they lose their dignity or their rights to be helped.
As Catholics, we always have to be witnesses to the God of life and the God of
creation. We have to love life and take care of life — especially those lives that need special care and attention.
As Pope Francis reminds us: “A society truly welcomes life when it recognizes that it is also precious in old age, in disability, in serious illness and even when it is fading; when it teaches that the call to human fulfillment does not exclude suffering; indeed, when it teaches its members to see in the sick and suffering a gift for the entire community, a presence that summons them to solidarity and responsibility. This is the Gospel of life which … you are called to spread.”