November 5, 2017

Springfield bishop urges Catholics to stand against physician-assisted suicide legislation

Staff report

(CNS photo/Lawrence Looi, EPA) 

SPRINGFIELD – As proponents of physician-assisted suicide in two communities are advancing nonbinding measures, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski is urging people of all faiths to defend life, especially those who are sick and vulnerable.

Voters in Amherst are set to vote on a nonbinding referendum, which would show support of physician-assisted suicide legislation at its special fall town meeting, Monday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. at the town’s middle school. Voters will be able to decide on Article 17, a nonbinding referendum, which calls on the legislature to pass “The End of Life Options Act.” The Northampton city council is also considering a similar resolution.

“I am deeply disturbed to learn of local initiatives now being considered in support of physician-assisted suicide. In 2012, the voters of the Commonwealth carefully considered a similar statewide ballot question and at that time by a clear majority rejected it. The reasons to oppose it then remain just as valid now,” Bishop Rozanski wrote in a statement released Friday, Nov. 3. 

Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski speaks at a press conference several years ago at the Bishop Joseph F. Maguire Pastoral Center in Springfield. (IObserve file photo/Rebecca Drake)

“While supporters deceptively portray this as a compassionate effort, it is far from that, which is why groups representing some of the most vulnerable in our society, the disabled and elderly, remain in strong opposition. And despite baseless assertions to the contrary, enabling suicide under such vague guidelines leaves the door wide open to abuse and a slippery slope of an ever-increasing acceptance. In a time when we are confronted by a crisis of teen suicide, such an effort would no doubt send our young people a mixed message,” he stated.  

“Finally, with advances in pain management and hospice care, it is hard to understand why we need to make suicide legal. In the strongest terms, I urge that these measures be rejected,” the bishop wrote.

Currently there are two bills before the Massachusetts legislature that, if passed, would legalize physician-assisted suicide. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health. This is the eighth time a so-called death with dignity measure has been proposed.

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in California, Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Montana and the District of Columbia.

Dr. William Toffler, a family physician and professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, worked to try to defeat physician-assisted suicide in Oregon. But in 1997, the state became the first in the country to legalize the measure.

“I’m here to hopefully help Massachusetts not make Oregon’s mistake,” Dr. Toffler told iObserve in October.

Dr. Toffler lost his wife of 40 years to cancer. He said pain management and palliative care are the ways to comfort people at the end of life.

 “The solution to suffering is not to end the life of the sufferer,” said the father of seven and grandfather.

“It violates the 2,400-year-old tradition of doctors not doing harm, nurses not doing harm … once you let this into your society, there are no boundaries,” Dr. Toffler said.

In September, the Massachusetts Medical Society issued a statement opposing physician-assisted suicide legislation.