Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Murky Vested Interests Seek To Promote Death

By FATHER DOUGLAS K. CLARK, STL, Commentary | Published July 21, 2011

In 2009, the British Broadcasting Corporation showed “A Short Stay in Switzerland,” starring Julie Walters as Dr. Anne Turner, “who in 2006 took her own life in a Zurich clinic having developed an incurable degenerative disease,” very like the one that killed her husband. Although the drama portrays the opposition of Dr. Turner’s family and friends to her proposed “physician-assisted suicide,” which is illegal in the United Kingdom, the script’s point of view is that Dr. Turner was somehow heroic in choosing to end her life and that the law ought to be changed to allow for physician-assisted suicide in some cases.

During the current seventh season of  “House, M.D.,” the audience learns that Dr. “Thirteen” Hadley has been absent from the hospital for six months or so, serving a prison term for assisting her brother in his suicide. Because she has been diagnosed with the same degenerative disease that afflicted her brother, she sounds out the brilliant but twisted Dr. House as to whether or not he would help her kill herself  “when the time comes.” Also in this case, the script attempts to gain the audience’s sympathy for physician-assisted suicide.

The recent (natural) death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (“Dr. Death”), the most famous advocate of assisted suicide, who “assisted” 130 people to their deaths, has brought renewed attention to the push to legalize and popularize the deliberate killing of infirm people, by their own hands, assisted by those who have sworn the Hippocratic oath binding them first to do no harm.

The Catholic News Service reports that a “Gallup Poll released May 31 showed that Americans are more closely divided on the issue of physician-assisted suicide than on any other issue.” Asked “whether doctor-assisted suicide was morally acceptable or morally wrong, 45 percent said they thought it was acceptable and 48 percent said they believed it to be wrong—a result that fell within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.”

Hence, the passage of a statement, titled “To Live Each Day With Dignity,” on physician-assisted suicide at the June meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is very timely. As Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, rightly points out, “After years of relative inaction following legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in 1994, the assisted suicide movement has shown a strong resurgence in activity.” In other words, there is a movement afoot to convince sick people to kill themselves in relatively painless and unmessy ways, with the help of those trained and pledged to heal.

One can only marvel at the slick manner in which such a jaded approach to life and death is being crammed down our throats. One can only wonder who is behind this “movement” and why they are pushing us over this particular cliff.

Rightly and prophetically did Blessed John Paul II decry the culture of death and oppose it with the Gospel of Life, which he pointed out “is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture.”

But for the Gospel of Life to prevail “in every age and culture,” all Catholics (and not just some) need to be galvanized against the spread of the idea that death should be our default answer to life’s difficult questions, and in favor of supporting the right of all people to live, from conception to natural death.

When our culture seeks to “solve” awkward pregnancies with abortions, we must speak out. When it seeks to grapple with crime by the simple expedient of putting criminals to death, we must not be silent. When nations engage in war as the easy way out of crises that could be solved in peaceful ways, we must protest. And so, when murky vested interests seek to promote death as the solution to tragic illnesses, it is right for our bishops to speak out against them.

We need to hear again and to make our own the prayer of Pope John Paul, with which he concluded his great encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), in 1995:

O Mary,
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life:
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.

Father Douglas K. Clark, who holds a licentiate in sacred theology, is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Port Wentworth, Ga. This column was reprinted with the permission of The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah.