Recent legislative action to legalize physician-assisted suicide in New York has prompted the diocesan Public Policy Committee to make the issue its top advocacy priority for 2016-17.
Last spring, legislation was introduced in the state Assembly (A.10059) and Senate (S. 7579) that would allow terminally ill patients to request lethal doses of medication from physicians. According to the Assembly’s website (http://bit.ly/2d681no), the Assembly Health Committee approved the bill in a 14-11 vote in May, making it possible for the legislation to come before the full Assembly for a vote during the 2017 legislative session.
"We need to be prepared. Even if it doesn’t come up this year, we have, at least, started the educational process with our Catholic community members and parishes," said Father Brian Cool, chair of the diocesan Public Policy Committee. "The church calls us to be people who are pro-life, that we see life as a value and a gift from God. Our response as Christians is to promote the dignity of life from womb to tomb."
Father Cool said the committee plans to use bulletin announcements and in-service training of parish social-ministry committees in order to educate parishioners about physician-assisted suicide. These educational efforts will culminate with Public Policy Weekend Feb. 4-5, 2017, during which parishioners will be asked to sign a petition against physician-assisted suicide in New York. The petitions will be forwarded to state legislators representing the diocese’s 12 counties.
During Public Policy Weekend this past February, more than 8,700 people signed a petition calling for an increase in child-care subsidies for low-income families. This petition arose from the committee’s top 2015-16 advocacy issue of poverty — particularly focusing on children and families in poverty. Since the state did not increase funding for child-care subsidies, the committee has designated poverty as an educational issue for 2016-17, and committee members will continue to address the issue when meeting with state legislators, Father Cool said.
"Even though we might not have achieved our goal (of increased funds for child-care subsidies), we take the long-road approach to advocacy," he said. "Sometimes, we find successes, and other times we find challenges. This is still an issue that is important to us."
Addressing the issue of poverty is of great importance at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption, according to Pastoral Associate Deni Mack, who said parishioners are involved with Roc/ACTS, a community of area congregations that work to address poverty. In the fall of 2015, she said members of Roc/ACTS met with both candidates for Monroe County executive in hopes of getting their support for increasing child-care subsidies, and went door to door in the community, distributing information on the issue. The parish also publishes educational information in its bulletins and makes announcements at Masses about Public Policy Weekend petitions.
"In Matthew 25:31-46, we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger and visit the sick. We (Church of the Assumption) take that to heart," Mack said of the parish’s commitment to social-justice issues.
In addition to poverty, the diocesan Public Policy Committee will once again focus on "Laudato Si’," Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on care for the environment, as its other educational issue. The committee urges parishes to offer opportunities to parishioners to learn more about stewardship of the environment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about the diocesan Public Policy Committee’s agenda for 2016-17, visit www.dor.org/tasks/sites/home/assets/File/PublicPolicy%20brochure_2017.pdf.