This is the fifth and final post in a series of posts by Noel Byrne considering the Catholic church’s stance on End of Life choice as outlined in their Oireachtas submission to the Justice Committee considering the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill. If you missed the earlier posts describing the negative impact the ‘Irish Bishops Conference’ has had on legislation in Ireland, you can catch up here.
The bishops insist on the use of the word “suicide” in their submission to the Oireachtas Committee. They say the Bills proposals “provide for the medical facilitation of suicide.” They constantly use the term “assisted suicide”. It is actually used in their submission on at least thirty occasions. They also use terms such as “medicalised killing “ and “deliberate killing “ in their submission. In section five of their submission they specifically question why the drafters of the Bill “do not make use of the term suicide”. They state “it is appropriate to refer to the Bill as an “assisted suicide” bill”. They continue “While palliative care already provides assistance to those who are dying, this Bill provides for the medical endorsement and facilitation of suicide. Legislators need to honestly recognize the difference and call things by their proper name. This is a difficult and extremely sensitive issue. Why make it vulgar? Is it simply to win more adherents to your point of view?
These last sentences in the above quotation from the bishops are pejorative, denigratory and disparaging as well as being callous. This is an effort at stigmatizing the Bill as immoral.
The term “suicide “ is the most insensitive term that could be used to someone who is the position of requesting assistance to die. Such people are already dying but are begging for assistance. But remarks of this nature are typical of these ivory -tower church intellectuals. To request the use of the term ‘suicide’ in these circumstances is absolutely callous. As I said in previous posts the bishops have no real understanding of compassion or suffering. Their direct line to their alleged god gives them a different mentality and puts them in a different category to normal human beings.
They appear to have no knowledge or awareness of the harrowing stories being told of the dreadful hardships, agonies and torture that terminal illness can bring, nor of the limits of palliative care.
In all the English speaking countries where similar legislation is now in place the term ”suicide” is never used. I am referring to Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia, and in countries where the issue is currently being debated such as Ireland, Scotland and the UK the term suicide is not used either. That is because those drafting these bills have an understanding and sensitivity of what the Bill is about. It is because it is such a sensitive issue and because those promoting it have a genuine and compassionate concern for those who are at the stage of their lives where they have to consider such a horrible and ghastly option.
Suicide is generally undertaken by people who do not actually want to die, they want the pain of living to end. It is generally done alone and in secrecy, leaving loved ones with devastating grief and is often violent and carried out by people who do not enter or are misunderstood by the medical system.
Voluntary Assisted Dying on the other hand hastens death for people in irremediable circumstances whose death is reasonably foreseeable. It involves decision-making by the patient and medical personnel and allows the option to involve loved ones. It is a non-violent, rationally chosen, medical intervention.
This Dying with Dignity Bill is based on the original model first used in the US State of Oregon and which is in existence for over twenty years.
Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) are the codified laws of the State of Oregon. Chapter 127 of the ORS deals with Advanced Directives for Health Care. ORS Paras. 127-800 to 127-897 deal with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. At para. 127-800 it specifically states: “Actions taken in accordance with ORS 127-800 to 127-897 shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide under the law”. The Oregon Dying with Dignity law has been before the US Supreme court and passed.
The American Association of Suicidology recognizes that the practice of medical aid in dying is distinct from the behavior that has traditionally and ordinarily described as “suicide”. People who seek medical aid in dying want to live but are stricken with life-ending illnesses. They feel deeply offended when the medical practice is called suicide or assisted suicide. The AAS documents fifteen ways medical aid in dying is fundamentally distinct from suicide and completely outside the focus of the AAS.
The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Medical Women’s Association, American Medical Student Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association, all have policies opposing the use of the terms “suicide” and “assisted suicide in describing the medical practice of aid in dying.
In 1996 the “American College of Legal Medicine” filed an amicus brief before the US Supreme court rejecting the term “ Physician Assisted Suicide”. In 2008 they adopted a resolution in which they “ publicly advocated elimination of the word ‘suicide’ from the lexicon created by a mentally competent, though terminally ill, person who wishes to be aided in dying”.
One US Judge has referred to suicide as a biased term when used in connection with Physician Assisted Death.
This Bill is about terminally ill people who are dying and have decided they can take no more pain, anguish or suffering. It is about the avoidance of futile suffering. It is not about suicide, it is about a different way of dying.
Why are the bishops so hard-hearted and unfeeling in insisting on calling the procedures in the Bill suicide. Not alone is it callous but denigratory and snide in their comments to the drafters of the Bill and to the Oireachtas Committee. Why can they not have compassion, pity and love for the plight of those who are forced to suffer against their own wishes. These people are faced in their final days with unbearable suffering, or else sedation, starvation, suicide or travelling to Switzerland to end their life painlessly.
This type of action by the bishops is part of the ongoing attempts at bullying legislators and legislation into their warped world which thankfully has been seen through in recent years by the majority of the citizens of this state.
The Irish bishop’s hypocricy is shown in Bishop Brendan Comiskey delivering the homily at the funeral of Fr. Sean Fortune who committed suicide while awaiting trial on sixty six charges of sexual abuse and the bishop Casey scandal.
Suicide was a mortal sin up until the Second Vatican council of 1962 to 1965.
A death by suicide was also forbidden by the bishops to be buried in “consecrated” ground. However after Vatican II the church softened it’s attitude slightly on suicide. It now became “a grave offense”. The church then brings its casuistry into suicide by stating “that suicide is distinguished from the sacrifice of one’s life for god or another as in the case of martyrdom”.
This change was probably to get round that the fact that it was being argued that Jesus himself committed suicide “ As a sacrifice for man”. He was “the sacrificial lamb” who could through his alleged power as god have avoided death. He came on earth to die for our sins. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann said in his book The Crucifed God, that “Jesus did not suffer passively from the world in which he lived, but incited it against himself by his message and the way he lived”. In Mark’s gospel at 10.45 Jesus says” For the son of man himself did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” and in John’s gospel at 10.18 Jesus said “No one takes it [my life] from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again”. At John 15.13 Jesus gives a motive for his willingness to die, he says “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”. Is there a distinction between killing oneself and provoking one’s own death? I think not.
Jesus’s death was a suicide and he could have avoided it. So why are the church against it?
This type of submission by the bishops does not really help their own cause. Those who still believe in the Catholic religion are educated and aware that this Bill is about choice and that there is no compulsion or coercion involved. It does not in any way interfere with the Catholic religion or it’s believers. The bishops might be better spending their time out with their flocks and trying to get them to stay on board the Catholic bus. As it currently stands they are failing miserably and the bus is gradually emptying.