Anti-Catholicism Taints Assisted Suicide Campaing

PORTLAND, Ore.—There's no denying that the issue of assisted suicide was hotly debated here the past few months.

But, passions ran high about more than just legal concerns. The sting of the campaign's anti-Catholic bias was also plain. Folks like 94-year-old Leo Smith have seen such bigotry before. Smith, born and raised in Portland, is a former district attorney and a practicing Catholic.

“No doubt about it, there was an anti-Catholic attitude during the campaign,” Smith said. “I can also remember in 1924-25 there was an active campaign to make all the children go to public school. That was also a very harsh, bitter fight—so far as name-calling is concerned.”

He recalls people at that time, as they did in the recent assisted suicide campaign, staunchly lining up on either one side or the other.

“When it comes to assisted suicide, I think the Church is basically right,” Smith said. “… Now we need to step back and try and figure out how to work things out.”

Catholic bashing was apparent during a Portland radio show last month hosted by Lars Larsen. The talk show host was discussing the Measure 51 campaign to prevent legalization of suicide, which fell soundly to defeat Nov. 4 in Oregon.

Larsen said the Vatican was a “foreign power” trying to weigh in on an Oregon ballot measure. Some callers to the show agreed—others objected, pointing out that the Vatican as an independent state had not contributed any money to the campaign. In reality, funding came from the people in the pews, those who believe that assisted suicide is a serious life issue. They were Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

“We're faced with prejudice against Catholics all the time,” said John Haas, president of the Pope John Paul Center for Ethics and Health Care in Boston, Mass. “It's the last acceptable prejudice—I think it came out in spades in Oregon.”

Many of those favoring legalization of suicide framed the debate in the context of the Catholic Church trying to impose its morality on others. There was another message, like the one from Judie Brown, president of the American Life League: “Assisted suicide assaults and insults human dignity. Love and comfort, not a greased skid into the abyss, is the humane response to suffering.”

—Hazel Whitman