By Tom Grenchik

February 13, 2015

Lately, I’ve been taking the subway to work, and in waiting for trains, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my surroundings.  Our subway system in Washington DC consists of both above-ground and below-ground stations.  Those underground stations are fairly well-lit, with soaring, vaulted ceilings and raised platforms where commuters await the next train’s arrival.  But at either end of the platform there are two dark tunnels where the tracks and service walkways disappear into the unknown.

It is fascinating that most commuters avoid waiting near those dark openings. The platform areas near those tunnels seem like a no-man’s-land where one should not venture.  Whether it’s the glances of other commuters or the surveillance of all the security cameras, you certainly get the impression that you should keep a safe distance from that area.

Recently, I noticed dust-covered red signs at the tunnel openings.  They have probably been there for many years, but I had to venture into no-man’s-land to read them clearly.  They read:  “YOU TALK, WE LISTEN.  TOGETHER WE SURVIVE,” followed by a suicide hotline number.

I don’t know how many people have taken their lives in those dark tunnels, nor do I know how many suicides have been prevented by those red messages of hope.  But the signs are certainly well-placed, and I am grateful that our commuter subway system makes an effort to intervene when a hurting person is considering taking his or her own life. It’s refreshing to see that some people still think it’s a good idea to prevent a suicide.

Advocates of assisted suicide do not share that view. More than a dozen states are considering legislation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide.  And a concerning number of Americans think that whether or not people should be helped to kill themselves depends on how sick or disabled they are.  

We have a life-threatening double-standard.  Our culture is willing to prevent some suicides, while happy to assist other suicides: those of persons with disabilities, or those facing sickness or terminal illness.  If one happens to be in that latter group, what’s communicated is that their life is not worth living and they should have a right to end it.  And if they have the right to end such a life, maybe they also have an obligation to do so, if the rest of the culture agrees.  Is this the frightening direction in which we are heading?

Perhaps the subway stations of the future will maintain the red warning signs for some suicide-vulnerable people. But if stations were to follow the example of pro-death advocates, they’d be adding neon green signs, moving sidewalks, and every other sort of encouragement to help persons facing illness or disability to take that trip down the dark tunnel of suicide.

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 great 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. You can find contact information at

Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Visit to learn more about the bishops’ stance on assisted suicide and related issues.

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