American Psychiatric Association Rejects Physician Assisted Suicide

In a major boost to opponents of physician-assisted suicide, the American Psychiatric Association has taken a clear stand:

The American Psychiatric Association, in concert with the American Medical Association’s position on Medical Euthanasia, holds that a psychiatrist should not prescribe or administer any intervention to a non-terminally ill person for the purpose of causing death.

According to BioedgeDr Mark S. Komrad, of the APA ethics committee, says that “So far, no other country that has implemented physician-assisted suicide has been able to constrain its application solely to the terminally ill, eventually including non-terminal patients as legally eligible as well,” says Dr Komrad. “This is when psychiatric patients start to be included.”

This is a perfect example of the slippery slope argument, which far from being theoretical, has already been shown to lead to dangerous broadening of the laws restricting physician assisted suicide.

This is a welcome decision indeed. 

New Jersey Physician Assisted Suicide and Advent ?

Not exactly perfect timing is it?

Once again a physician-assisted suicide bill is being sponsored and voted on in the Jersey legislature. The Diocese of Trenton has assembled some resources which they have asked to be made available to parishioners through social media. 

The most important thing for Catholics to do is become informed about the dangers of physician-assisted suicide and then inform our elected officials of our opposition to what is being called "state sanctioned suicide."

Having worked against and spoken out against physician assisted suicide since the 90's, I've seen the political and social landscape truly shift from those days.

Some arguments against it have become weaker

More states have passed physician-assisted suicide, falsely allaying fears that legalizing assisted dying will open the floodgates of death by medication. The use of the slippery-slope argument against aid in dying has never been too effective even though more evidence has accumulated from the experience of European nations how quickly the initial restrictions placed on the practice are loosened. 

More testimony has been sought from speakers afflicted with illness which has made them consider and then reject assisted dying for themselves. While their personal testimony is poignant, proponents of aid in dying acknowledge, then dismiss it, asserting that the "right" to assisted dying should be offered to those who choose it.  I remember a seminar at which Christopher Reeve's mother speaking with tears in her eyes advocated the unrestricted use of human embryos for medical research, "Don't take away hope." The dramatic YouTube video of the fourteen year old Wisconsin girl who pleaded successfully to be allowed to die was credited with helping pass California's aid in dying legislation. The use of personal testimony is emotionally powerful on either side of the argument. In my view, it should be used sparingly, if at all.

So many more challenges have been brought to any moral absolute with dramatic success under the Obama administration. Gender, biology and choice have been blended into a spectrum. The right of an individual to choose almost anything has been broadened, except the right to object to policies which silence those espousing traditional Christian values.

Some arguments against aid in dying have become even more cogent

Health care has become more controlled by private and government insurers that are becoming reluctant to pay for life-prolonging treatment deemed futile or not cost-effective. This should alarm everyone. While prudent decisions must be made, they shouldn't be made by a board or trustees, or a government bureaucrat. The patient, the family, their physicians and caregivers should also be involved in clinical care decisions and making public policy.

An increasing number of physicians have become comfortable with the idea of offering physician assisted suicide to their patients. Some of them put their obligation to serve their patient's needs and wishes above their own personal judgement or without recourse to any other source of moral or legal obligation. While many physicians feel the intrinsic ethics of medical practice forbid physician assisted dying, some embrace it as part of the obligation they owe to their patients who choose it. Many people no longer fear that doctors can help them to die.

The Church's teaches that extra-ordinary medical care may be refused or discontinued if already begun. This  along with  priority for treating pain, even if the pain medication brings deleterious effects-including hastening death allows for merciful and dignified care near the end of life without recourse to physician-assisted suicide.


Article in The Monitor: Doctors, patients, testify against N.J. bill they call 'state-sanctioned suicide'

Thanksgiving For Life

                A statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York Chairman, 
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Seven jurisdictions in the United States have now opened the legal door to this dangerous abuse of medicine, an alarming trend that must be stopped for the sake of human dignity and the sacredness of life.

In Colorado, Proposition 106 legalized the ability of a doctor to write prescriptions for the sole purpose of killing another human being, and the ability of insurance companies to refuse treatment of patients they consider terminal. The DC law is the most expansive and dangerous so far. It goes beyond assisted suicide by allowing third parties to administer the lethal drugs opening the door even further to coercion and abuse.

Every suicide is tragic, whether someone is young or old, healthy or sick. But the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide creates two classes of people: those whose suicides are to be prevented at any cost, and those whose suicides are deemed a positive good. We remove weapons and drugs that can cause harm to one group, while handing deadly drugs to the other, setting up yet another kind of life-threatening discrimination. This is completely unjust. Our inherent human dignity does not wane with the onset of illness or incapacity, and so all are worthy of protection.

The act of prescribing a fatal, poisonous dose, moreover, undermines the very heart of medicine. Doctors vow to do no harm, and yet assisted suicide is the ultimate abandonment of their patients. 

What seriously ill – and often depressed -- patients need is authentic support, including doctors fully committed to their welfare and pain management as they enter their final days. Patients need our assurance that they are not a burden -- that it is a privilege to care for them as we ourselves hope to be cared for one day. A compassionate society devotes more attention, not less, to members facing the most vulnerable times in their lives. 

So doctor-assisted suicide must now be opposed with renewed vigor. Catholics must join medical professionals, disability rights groups, and other concerned citizens in fighting for the authentic care of those facing terminal illness.

Memorial Day, Military Suicides and Pentecost

Yellow_and_red_candle_fThis weekend our nation remembers those who suffered most acutely from war; we salute those veterans who gave their lives in battle. The Memorial Day holiday has an interesting history. Just around the same time the Catholic Church was moving holydays and allowing Saturday evening vigil masses to satisfy the Sunday mass obligation, Congress moved four federal holidays to Mondays in order to give federal workers three day weekends – Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. It didn’t take long for most states to follow the federal lead, except interestingly, for Veterans Day, which after a decade of Monday celebration, was moved back to its traditional date of November 11. (WWI hostilities ended 11/11/1918 at the 11th hour; orginally Armistice Day)

We are reminded this Memorial Day, that war takes the lives of our soldiers not only on the battlefield, but off it as well. Some who speak of the glory of war too often forget its gory cruelty. Veterans cannot forget and haunted by the memories, they sometimes take their own lives after their fighting is done.

The commanding general of Fort Bliss, Maj Gen Pittard1 was criticized for recently blogging a comment that suicide was a thoroughly “selfish” act, which brutalized family members, friends and colleagues. His blog comments were made after attending the funeral of a soldier who killed himself at home with his family on Christmas in front of his twin six year old daughters. It is important to read about Fort Bliss and the full text of the general’s now deleted blog comments before agreeing with some politicians that the general “completely misunderstands” military suicides, or that he is “totally insensitive” to the problem. The general retracted his statement, but reemphasized his concern about suicide not only in the Army, but in our nation.3

 Meantime, no one led the charge to correct a statement from one of the Kennedy’s outside the funeral of Mary Kennedy, who hanged herself: “Mary suffered from depression…I just think about the story of Michael the Archangel, who had to battle the forces of evil, had to battle Satan who was trying to enter paradise, and that's what Mary did her whole life. She was battling, battling those demons and keeping them out of the paradise that was Mary. She was an angel, she was an angel who was brought to us to live with us here on Earth. And I think that God just brought her back up to heaven and said: 'You don't have to fight for me anymore, you can be back where you're supposed to be.”4

Emotionally sympathetic, but theologically bizarre comments like these are precisely why the Catholic Church forbids eulogies (praising the deceased) at mass and exercises increasing vigilance over the Words of Remembrance given by family or friends whenever they are spoken in church.

I’m no angel, you’re no angel. Our battles are vastly different from angels, who do not experience hunger, thirst, fatigue or even physical pleasure. Angels don’t become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or suffer from any illness, even a cold. Angels cannot kill themselves.

Here apparently suicide has moved away from any opprobrium at all, to a hereditary illness, then to an honor in heaven, a kind of heavenly Purple Heart. As General Pittard reminds us however, “There is nothing noble about suicide.” Implying that there is, even to console the sorrowful, is dangerous.

If we can agree that suicide is not a moral flaw, I hope we can also agree that suicide causes terrible pain and suffering to others…suicide is surely not a moral virtue. Nor is suicide inevitable. (In fact a recent study determined that 20% of those dying by suicide are legally intoxicated; is getting drunk part of the suicide plan, or does drinking loosen inhibitions against self-harm? There is so much we do not yet understand.)

We reflect on the wounds of war this weekend: The wounds that kill on the battlefield and those that kill after the battle is done. God help us to understand the horror of war, and that some casualties of war can be prevented far away from enemy fire.

General Pittard comments that “suicide is a serious problem, not only in our Army, but throughout our entire nation.” As for the soldiers under his command, a buddy system has been instituted –  all soldiers have a teammate watching out for them; the general exhorts them: to “Please look after each other; please do not allow your buddy to make a rash decision that will have permanent life-ending consequences. Choose life.” That doesn’t sound like insensitivity or misunderstanding to me.

 As citizens we can make sure mental health treatment is freely and confidentially available. And we can fight the stigma that a history of mental health treatment carries in many professions and occupations.

As Catholics we can embrace the graces of Pentecost. Ask the Holy Spirit to make us ever faithful in Pentecost
prayer, to increase our respect for the Eucharist and strengthen our spiritual and communal bonds.

May we become

  • a community of compassion and consolation, of less strident criticism, but not of lesser moral values.
  • a community of courage to confront social evils and battle to right them.
  • a community of freedom to worship our God, help our neighbors and defend our most precious moral and religious values. 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!


Pittard's original blog entry Jan 18 2012: I've edited out the phrases which were criticized so as not to propagate them, you can Google them everywhere. The whole post is a bit more difficult to discover: 

"We lost a Fort Bliss Soldier to an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. I heard the tragic news as I walked out of a memorial service for another one of our Soldiers who decided to kill himself at home on Christmas Day so that his family would find him. Christmas will never be the same for his two young daughters he left behind....edit...There is nothing noble about suicide. I care about each and every one of our Soldiers, family members and civilians at Fort Bliss. I know there are a lot of people hurting out there, especially with the future Army personnel cuts on the horizon. If you are hurting mentally or emotionally, then seek and get help; but don’t resort to taking your own life. ...edit...SEEK HELP! If you need help, please call 915-779-1800 or 800-273-TALK (8255). It is a confidential call. Please look after each other; please do not allow your buddy to make a rash decision that will have permanent life-ending consequences. Choose life.”