Assisted suicide bill offers violence, not compassion, says LA archbishop

Euthanasia campaigner Dr. Philip Nitschke poses for the photographer with his 'suicide kit' after a Reuters interview in London in this May 7, 2009 file photo.Reuters

Assisted suicide is "hollow" compassion, said a bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, after the California Senate green-lit a measure allowing doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions to patients who only have six months or less to live.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the state's assisted suicide bill only offers violence, not compassion and care, to the terminally ill, a Catholic News Agency report said.

"It is a failure of public leadership and moral imagination to respond to human suffering by making it easier for people to kill themselves," said the archbishop in his June 9 column for The Tidings.

"Helping someone to die—even if that person asks for that help—is still killing. And killing is not compassion, it is killing," Gomez said. "It is responding to the needs of our neighbours with indifference, with the cold comfort of death."

He asked California to be "a vanguard of true compassion for the dying," as Senate Bill 128, titled "The End of Life Options Act," was passed by a vote of 23-14.

The measure would allow adults with terminal illnesses that would kill them within six months to get medication they could administer to themselves to end their lives. Two doctors would have to confirm that the patient only has six months or less to live and that the patient has the mental competency to make health decisions.

Gomez implored people to learn from those who work in hospices, geriatrics and palliative care.

"Death will always be a mystery and death will never be easy – for those who are dying or for those who love them. But we can make death less painful, less frightening and we can even make it a time of beauty, mercy and reconciliation."

He also asked people to pray and asked Mother Mary to help Catholics "grow in true compassion."

The California legislation is modelled after an Oregon law. A similar bill was thumbed down by the state's legislature in 2007. If it becomes a law in California, America's biggest state will join Oregon, Washington state, Montana and Vermont where doctor-assisted suicide is allowed.

The archbishop acknowledged people's fear of "becoming dependent or dying alone in a hospital, attached to all sorts of medical devices."

Gomez warned that the measure has "dangerous implications," especially for the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, and immigrants, who are pressured by financial concerns.

The assisted suicide bill, he said, is "pushing us into a quick-fix 'solution' that involves killing the people we find too difficult, too burdensome or too expensive to care for."

"In a state like California, where we have millions of people receiving government subsidised health care, the pressures to choose suicide over treatment will become even more urgent," the archbishop said.

With the measure, more and more could opt to die and think they are "better off dead," Gomez said, noting that there has been a 50-percent increase in suicide rate in Oregon after the state allowed doctor-assisted suicide.

Legally assisted suicide could also be extended later from just the terminally ill to anyone suffering chronic and intolerable pain, the Catholic News Agency report warned.