Don’t be fooled by language of assisted suicide proponents

Categories: Editorial

by Joe Towalski

Alternatives are available that demonstrate real mercy and compassion

Efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the state received support this past week at the State Capitol with the introduction of what its proponents call the “Minnesota Compassionate Care Act of 2015.” The measure would allow patients who have a terminal diagnosis and meet certain conditions to take their own lives with medication prescribed by a physician.

handsIf the measure becomes law, Minnesota would join four other states in allowing assisted suicide. The bill, S.F. 1880, sponsored by Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), received an initial hearing March 23 in the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee. In introducing the bill, Eaton said she isn’t pushing for its passage this year; rather, she wants to start the conversation and convene a series of meetings around the state to gather Minnesotans’ input.

Opponents of assisted suicide need to be part of this conversation and begin preparing now for the debate ahead. A first item on the agenda should be to demand clarity around what this bill would allow because, thus far, the language used by its proponents is deceiving.

Simply stated, they refuse to call it assisted suicide, preferring euphemisms like “compassionate care.” Along those lines, the bill itself contains this interesting wording: “No report of a public agency may refer to the practice of obtaining and self-administering life-ending medication to end a qualified patient’s life as ‘suicide’ or ‘assisted suicide,’ and shall refer to the practice as ‘aid in dying.’”

The PR campaign already appears to be working. In a 679-word online story about the bill posted by a metro daily newspaper, the word “suicide” never appears — except once in reference to the “No Assisted Suicide” stickers opponents of the bill wore at the hearing. The reporter instead makes references to patients’ “freedom to accelerate their imminent death” and “aid in dying.”

Better options available

Let’s be clear: this bill is about involving the medical profession and others to assist a person to commit suicide.

But, of course, the debate over language is just one aspect of a larger, even more important discussion. Proponents of this measure argue that there is nothing morally problematic with assisted suicide as long as certain conditions are met. They will tell you that it can be the most humane choice for a terminally ill person faced with severe pain and the prospect of completely losing his or her autonomy and becoming a burden. They will have people come forward to share sad and painful stories about how loved ones suffered before they died.

But suicide is morally problematic, and there are better, more humane options for treating people with terminal illnesses — options that show true compassion and recognize and honor their human dignity.

The church teaches that suicide violates respect for life and the stewardship — not ownership — we are given by God over our lives. People have dignity because God created them, not because of what they can do or how well they can care for themselves without assistance from others.

The church also teaches that we should help those who suffer. “They cry out for our compassion — a word whose root meaning is to ‘suffer with’ another person,” the U.S. bishops wrote in their 2011 document “To Live Each Day with Dignity.” Society — not just us Catholics — are “called to surround patients with love, support and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional and spiritual suffering,” they said.

This means ensuring the ill have their pain properly managed and helping them navigate through feelings of isolation and hopelessness should they arise.

In light of the Holy Year of Mercy that begins later this year, this is a good time for us Catholics and others of good will to begin having discussions in our parishes and homes about the assisted-suicide proposal and end-of-life care.

We need to understand what our faith teaches and what this bill would do to change long-standing public policy. We also need to ask ourselves some serious questions:

  • What kind of society do we become when we legalize and normalize death as the “compassionate” response to those who suffer?
  • What does compassionate care and mercy truly entail?
  • How would assisted suicide affect the medical profession and the care it provides?
  • How would the law impact vulnerable people? While the bill seeks to include protections to ensure a patient’s competency and freedom from coercion in making decisions, are these requirements strong enough?
  • What stories can we share of loved ones who received good end-of-life care?

Accurate resources to help the conversation about assisted suicide and end-of-life care can be found on the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference ( and a new site created by the New York State Catholic Conference (
We also must begin to have the conversation with our state legislators who will be hearing more about this bill in the months ahead. They need to hear why the bill constitutes bad health care and bad public policy. And they need to hear soon. The other side is already beginning to make its case.