By Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of Pro-Life Activities, New York State Catholic Conference
When you stop to think about it, everything we’ve been doing for the past two and a half months has been for the sole purpose of saving lives. Every step we have taken — the quarantines, the masks, the distancing, the sanitizing — every bit of it is being done to protect human life, specifically the most vulnerable lives, those who are older and weaker with underlying health issues.
That’s why I find it extremely ironic that as our state, our nation and other nations continue these unprecedented steps to protect the most at-risk citizens from a deadly virus, efforts continue to promote and legalize physician-assisted suicide as a solution to illness and suffering.
Even as society struggles to ensure that the elderly, disabled and ill have access to ventilators and quality medical care, even as researchers scramble to discover a treatment and develop a vaccine, states across this country are simultaneously taking steps to remove legal and moral restrictions on the intentional killing of patients. Eight states and the District of Columbia now regard prescriptions for death-inducing drugs as a “medical treatment.”
Make no mistake: Physician-assisted suicide is a policy of hopelessness and death, completely contrary to our current efforts to protect those most endangered.
Last year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a new law allowing terminally ill residents of the Garden State to access drugs to take their own lives. A year later amid the coronavirus contagion, Governor Murphy says he is “fighting for every precious life,” and calls the deaths at long-term care facilities a “tragedy.”
In Canada, just days before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and all provinces were effectively put under a lockdown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put forward a proposal to allow non-terminally ill Canadians to access medically-assisted death. He wants to allow people with degenerative diseases like cerebral palsy and others who feel their disabilities are “intolerable” to choose to die via a lethal prescription.
Here in New York, there has been much debate surrounding nursing home care and the coronavirus response. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that “the cost of a human life is priceless,” and that the most vulnerable population — our elderly — deserve the highest level of care.
Agreed. It is, and they do.
But what value do we place on our elderly and ill citizens? Setting aside our efforts to defeat this deadly virus, how do we treat our elders? If they’re no longer useful, if they’re dying anyway, if they have cognitive difficulties, do our policies neglect them or protect them?
Pope Francis has repeatedly warned of a “throwaway culture” in which unwanted people become disposable, and are routinely discarded like trash. He has said the abandonment and mistreatment of the elderly is a “hidden euthanasia.” When viewed through this lens, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that physician-assisted suicide has taken a foothold in our society.
No human being — no matter how old, sickly, disabled or debilitated — should ever be made to feel like they are an inconvenience, a burden or an unwelcome expense.
I’m praying that our collective COVID-19 prevention efforts raise our consciousness to the inherent preciousness of human life, lead us to always honor and respect our elders, and shut the door completely to a New York State-sanctioned policy of doctor-assisted suicide.
Editor’s note. This appeared in The Evangelist, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Albany, New York.