LOS ANGELES — People suffering from terminal illness deserve true compassion and care — not violence, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said as the California Legislature’s assisted-suicide bill advances.
“It is a failure of public leadership and moral imagination to respond to human suffering by making it easier for people to kill themselves,” he said in his June 9 column for The Tidings.
Assisted suicide offers a “hollow” compassion, Archbishop Gomez said.
“Helping someone to die — even if that person asks for that help — is still killing. And killing is not compassion; it is killing,” he said. “It is responding to the needs of our neighbors with indifference, with the cold comfort of death.”
He called for California to become “a vanguard of true compassion for the dying.”
Archbishop Gomez spoke after the California Senate passed S.B. 128, “The End of Life Options Act,” by a vote of 23-14. The legislation is modeled on Oregon’s law. It would allow doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions to patients who have six months or less to live.
The legislation requires approval by the California Assembly. A similar bill failed to pass in 2007.
The archbishop acknowledged that some people fear being unable to control pain or illnesses, especially the afflictions of old age.
“They are worried about becoming dependent or dying alone in a hospital, attached to all sorts of medical devices,” he said.
The archbishop noted trends in health, like living longer, mean more age-related frailties like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
“We need to have an honest public conversation about these issues and what they mean for how we try to provide health care to all our people,” Archbishop Gomez continued.
He said the assisted-suicide bill’s sponsors mean well and want to return compassion and personal freedom to the health-care system.
However, he said the proposed legislation has “dangerous implications,” especially for the poor and vulnerable.
Archbishop Gomez warned that the assisted-suicide bill 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.”
He warned that financial concerns will create pressure on the poor, elderly and handicapped, as well as on immigrants and minorities.
“In a state like California, where we have millions of people receiving government subsidized health care, the cost pressures to choose suicide over treatment will become even more urgent.”
The archbishop noted a case in Oregon, where an insurance company denied cancer treatment for a woman. She was encouraged to take suicide pills, and her insurance company said it would pay for them.
Legal assisted suicide may not be limited to the terminally ill. Rather, further advocacy could extend it to anyone suffering chronic and intolerable pain.
Archbishop Gomez warned that more and more people could decide they are “better off dead.” He cited an overall suicide rate increase of 50% in Oregon since the state legalized doctor-assisted suicide.
He encouraged people to support and 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 encouraged people to pray for one another and asked the Virgin Mary to help Catholics “grow in true compassion.”