Bioethicist-priest urges opposition to assisted suicide in Massachusetts

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A priest and leading bioethicist has urged Massachusetts voters to reject an initiative allowing physician-assisted suicide because it undermines trust in the health care profession.

“It is troubling how many individuals fail to grasp the absurdity of encouraging physician-assisted suicide. Suicide is no joking matter. Regardless of how it transpires, it is a catastrophe for those who end their own lives and for loved ones left behind,” he wrote in the opinion piece for the Oct. 8 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The editorial's author, Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River in Massachusetts. He is also director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center and has his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Yale University.

Question 2, if passed, would allow physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of a drug that will allow their terminally ill patient to commit suicide.

Fr. Pacholczyk presented an argument against physician-assisted suicide by reasoning that other professionals, such as police or lifeguards, could assist in suicides in a similar manner.

“If a sick person expresses a wish to die, the police could be notified, and an officer would arrive bearing a suitable firearm ... After giving instruction on the best way to angle the barrel, the officer would depart, and the patient could then pick up the device and take it from there—police-assisted suicide.”

Fr. Pacholczyk emphasized that society discourages suicide in all other instances, placing signs on high bridges encouraging people with suicidal inclinations to seek help.

Permitting physician-assisted suicide flies in the face of that societal norm, he said.

Heather Clish, a supporter of the initiative, said that “while this choice isn’t for everyone, everyone has the right to this choice.”

But Fr. Pacholczyk pointed to those deeply harmed by the suicide of loved ones and those with serious diseases who have found joy in life despite their ailments.

Question 2 would permit suicide for adult residents of the state who are mentally capable of making health care decisions, who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease that will kill them within six months, and have expressed a wish to die.

It requires a 15 day waiting period before the drug can be dispensed, and under the law the patient's death certificate “would list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death.” It would allow for health care providers to opt-out of participation in the practice.

Question 2 will come before Massachusetts voters on Nov. 6.

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