The Catholic Church, one of the most consistent opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia, has fired two broadsides in Australia and the US. In Sydney Cardinal George Pell, an Oxford PhD with a high profile, issued a letter denouncing euthanasia, as it is on the agenda in several Australian parliaments. He warned of a slippery slope:

One important part of the Catholic task today, which we share with clear-headed humanists and humanitarians, is to explain that just as winter follows autumn legislation to allow voluntary euthanasia or mercy killing would lead to widespread involuntary euthanasia, with many, perhaps a majority of those euthanized being subject to the procedure without their consent and often against their will.

In the US, Catholic bishops issued a
long-anticipated statement on physician-assisted suicide. “To Live
Each Day with Dignity”
is more philosophical and ethical and
theological. Its main targets are individualism, radical autonomy and false
compassion. It argues that suicide is evidence of social failure to care for
the disadvantaged, disabled and lonely. What society must offer, it says, is “a
readiness to surround patients with love, support, and companionship, providing
the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional, and spiritual
suffering”.

Physician-assisted suicide does not promote
compassion because its focus is not on eliminating suffering, but on
eliminating the patient. True compassion, it contends, dedicates itself to
meeting patients’ needs and presupposes a commitment to their equal worth.

PAS also undermines patients’ freedom by
putting pressure on them to choose death, once society has officially declared
the suicides of certain people to be good and acceptable while working to
prevent the suicides of others. Undermining the value of some people’s lives
will undermine respect for their freedom as well, the statement says, citing
countries such as the Netherlands where voluntary assisted suicide has led to
involuntary euthanasia.

The bishops appealed to the Declaration of
Independence which declared that every human has an inalienable right to life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “The right to life is the most basic
human right. Other valued rights—the right to vote, to freedom of speech, or to
equal protection under law — lose their foundation if life itself can be destroyed
with impunity.”

Barbara Lee Coombs, the president of
Compassion & Choices, the most influential assisted suicide lobby group, denounced the
statement
as an effort to impose religious agenda on Americans. She warned
that the statement foreshadowed a “widespread political campaign” to restrict
patient access to end-of-life choice and “shame and scold the people who
support aid in dying”.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.