By Tom Grenchik


June 5, 2015

Following the story of last year’s tragic suicide of a young and terminally ill cancer patient, it seemed like all the media could talk about was the courage of controlling your death by taking your own life. Encouraging suicide did not stop with the media.  Many state legislatures began a mad scramble to legalize assisted suicide as quickly as possible.

As Americans, we fear unbearable pain, helplessness, and the possibility of becoming dependent and losing all control. And we fear these things so much that we can imagine that suicide can restore control with some sort of ideal, peaceful death.  Rather than emphasizing quality care and appropriate pain relief, our culture is running toward death, in an effort to run away from pain.

What gets lost in all this fear of death is the recognition of the opportunity for grace. We can depend on and grow closer to our loved ones, restore relationships, and experience spiritual, emotional, or even physical healings.

The story of Jeanette Hall, featured in a brief, video, is one encouraging example: In 2000, when told she had less than a year to live, she asked her cancer doctor for the pills to commit suicide. Instead, her doctor got to know her better and inspired her to consider treatment. With the help of a caring doctor, her tumor “melted away.” Now, fifteen years later, Jeanette says, “It’s great to be alive!” She is a firm believer that patients are certain to get better care when their doctors are not encouraging their suicides, or anyone else’s.

Not every story ends with a physical healing, but for those patients, the spiritually and emotionally healing presence of a loving family and a caring community can make all the difference in the world. Through the authentic compassion and support of family, friends, and community, those who are nearing death can be reassured that every moment of their lives is worth living.

Maggie Karner, a 51-year-old mother of three, who was diagnosed with terminal illness, is a witness to the power of cherishing every moment one has left. She shares her inspiring story of hope and courage in a three-minute video, which can be viewed at
Maggie has much left to give to her family and society and rejects the notion that a doctor can put a timetable on anyone's life. She embraces the remaining time she has with her family, while teaching them the beauty of caring for her with love and compassion.

Another inspiring witness is Stephanie Packer, who is a young wife and mother of four. In 2012, she was told that she had three years left to live. Far from letting the terminal diagnosis define or defeat her, she has found new purpose in leading and participating in support groups for fellow patients facing the same disease. You can learn more about Stephanie’s experience and watch a beautifully moving video about her and the response of her loving family at

There are many other hopeful stories like those of Jeanette, Maggie, and Stephanie, but you generally won’t find them in the popular media. These courageous women are all working hard to combat efforts to legalize assisted suicide around the country, but they can’t do it alone. It’s up to us to share their stories with friends and families, classmates and co-workers.

We also each need to inform ourselves about the growing push for assisted suicide. To get started, visit the U.S. Catholic bishops’ webpage “To Live Each Day With Dignity” (, where you can find fact sheets, articles, information about Church teaching, and prayer resources.

Most of all, let us pray for all those who may be victimized by this latest advance of the culture of death. And may our words and actions always convey the priceless worth of every human person, no matter their condition or circumstances. To find out what you can do to address the threat of assisted suicide locally, contact your diocesan respect life office:

Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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