By Deirdre A. McQuade
October 9, 2015
is Respect Life Month in the United States. This year, it began with a stark
reminder of the need to remain vigilant in facing threats to human life.
October 5, Governor Jerry Brown signed a new California law legalizing
physician-assisted suicide. Cardinal O'Malley, chair of the bishops' Committee
on Pro-Life Activities called
the governor's decision "a
great tragedy for human life. As a result…seriously ill patients suffering from
depression and suicidal feelings will receive lethal drugs, instead of genuine
care to help alleviate that suffering."
Sadly, Governor Brown deeply misunderstood the
bill he signed into law, showing a distorted sense of mercy and what it means
to die with dignity. Dignity is inherent to the human person. It's built into
who we are. No state or stage in life has more dignity than another. Assisted
suicide doesn't offer dignity to those who are terminally ill – they already
have it! Legalizing assisted suicide is a direct offense against that dignity,
and treats people as if they are disposable. As Pope Francis never tires of saying,
there are no disposable people.
Just ten days before the Governor's action, one
of the most eloquent opponents of assisted suicide, Maggie Karner, passed away
after living with aggressive brain cancer for a year and a half. A 52-year-old wife and mother of three
daughters, Maggie bravely faced her terminal cancer with courage and grace.
In her article for the new 2015-16
Respect Life Program, Maggie wrote:
My brain cancer—or what I can or can't do—doesn't define me
as a person. But it does give me the opportunity to witness to the fact that
every human life has incredible dignity, whether we are infirm or able. And all
the while, my family and friends can daily learn the valuable lessons of caring
for me in my last days with real compassion and respect. Through their loving
care, they affirm what I also know—that my life is, always has been, and always
will be, worth living.
of Maggie's daughters, Mary, is a registered nurse who is continuing her
mother's legacy of speaking up for the rights of the terminally ill and the
beauty of their lives. Upon hearing the heartbreaking news in California, Mary
wrote: "Terminal illness…stole my mom from me…. But
it also gave me something that I could never begin to describe.… [T]he greatest
honor of my life was to care for my mom in her last days."
In her own grief and loss, Mary exhorts us to follow her mother's
example of courage and to defend those who are ill or disabled:
those fighting illness and disabilities know that they are precious, no matter
what. They should never have to feel for a second that they might have a 'duty
to die' just because the option is available.
As the U.S.
bishops taught us in "To
Live Each Day with Dignity," this final stage of life can be a time of deep
reflection, forgiveness and reconciliation in the family, and of finding peace
with God. Assisted suicide unnaturally cuts that final stage short. It's time
to stand with those who are sick and dying, and not abandon them to suicide by
A. McQuade is Assistant Director for Pro-Life Communications at the Secretariat
of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For videos, fact sheets, and the U.S.
bishops' teaching on assisted suicide, visit "To Live Each Day with Dignity" (www.bit.ly/ToLiveEachDay