On June 1, Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell celebrated Mass at Santa Teresita, a home for seniors in need of assisted living and nursing services. The Mass marked the beginning of a call to nine days of prayer and fasting for the elderly, disabled and terminally ill.
“This is a challenge to all of us, especially to all of us who have faith,” the bishop said, “to teach always about the infinite value of each human life.”
Bishop O’Connell, who has lived in California for more than 30 years, said the passing of the End of Life Option Act makes it a sad time for the state.
“This is a failure of our love,” he said.
“A failure of heart, really, that we can’t think of anything else we can do for people who have been told that they have terminal illness than to offer them a package of pills, where they can take their own life, and say, ‘Go ahead; just commit suicide.’”
California state legislators met in October 2015 to sign the law allowing terminally ill patients, 18 years or older, to request an “aid-in-dying” drug from their physicians.
A push for assisted suicide in the state drew significant media attention in 2014, when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the legalized physician-assisted suicide there. Maynard had been given six months to live, due to an aggressive brain tumor.
With the passage of the law, California now joins Oregon, Vermont and Washington in legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The practice was also approved in Montana by a court ruling.
Similar legislation is making international headlines as well.
Canada’s assisted-suicide bill was recently sent to the Senate for final approval, hoping to meet its June 6 court-imposed deadline, but is facing delays due to disagreements in the inclusion of minors and protection for medical institutions.
The Netherlands, Switzerland, Colombia, Luxembourg, England and Wales already have various forms of the law instituted.
The new film Me Before You has prompted criticism for what is being described as a glorification of assisted suicide. It tells the story of a man with disabilities who falls in love with his caretaker and then decides to end his life with her support. The movie made its box office debut last week and earned more than $18 million dollars its opening weekend.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell recognized the vastness of this issue and said Catholics and people of all faiths must realize this and make a change.
“We must renew in our hearts, my brothers and sisters,” he said, a witness to life.
“What’s happened here is a challenge to all of us in our beautiful Catholic faith, but all of us in our humanity, to say, ‘We have this law. … Let us try to renew our lives again, our love for Jesus, our love for each other.’”
Bishop O’Connell said California has everything in regards to resources and opportunities. It is just missing one thing.
“If we stopped killing each other, we’d be in great shape.”
The bishop also discussed the effects this law would have on the poor.
“In our hospitals, it is the poor who are being advised and counseled more and more towards abortions,” he said.
“Now it’s going to happen, also, I’m sorry to say, with the elderly, the most poor and most vulnerable.”
This novena is just the start for Bishop O’Connell’s mission against this issue: to put faith into practice.
“This novena is to change our hearts, first of all, so that nobody will have to use this shameful option that we’re offering those who are suffering and elderly.”
Surrounded by religious sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Carmelite Sisters in Duarte (the order that runs Santa Teresita), the bishop asked the sisters for their help in educating and informing young children, high-school students and members of parishes.
He hopes to build up teams of people all over Los Angeles to do everything they can to help the elderly and those who are ill.
“If all of you have the same mission, than you will be united,” he said.
“We need to make sure nobody ever feels so lonely and unwanted that they feel this is their only option,” he said.
St. John Paul II Novena Prayer Cards, created by the Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, have already been sent to parishes throughout the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the Diocese of Orange. They are also available online at: ArchLA.org/endoflife