• <p>Dr. Kathleen McGrail speaks during a workshop on end-of-life issues that took place at Rochester&rsquo;s Sacred Heart Cathedral Jan. 18. (Courier photo by John Haeger)  </p>

    Dr. Kathleen McGrail speaks during a workshop on end-of-life issues that took place at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Jan. 18. (Courier photo by John Haeger)

Catholics asked to sign petition opposing assisted suicide in N.Y.

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    02.03.2020
Category: Local News


Last February, Catholics throughout the Diocese of Rochester were asked to sign petitions at their local parishes. These petitions urged state lawmakers to support the proposed Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, which would grant farmworkers equal treatment as other workers under New York state’s labor laws.

Those petitions and the more than 10,300 signatures they garnered were sent to state lawmakers, and in June the state Legislature passed the bill, 12 years after it was initially introduced.

This year, diocesan Catholics again are being asked to make their voices heard, this time in opposition to proposed legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in New York state. This legislation, known as the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A2694/S3947), would reverse the state’s current ban on physician-assisted suicide and make it legal for terminally ill patients to receive drugs that would end their lives.

Local parishioners are asked to oppose this legislation because it implies that the lives of those who are terminally ill are less valuable than others, according to information provided by the Diocesan Public Policy Committee, which each year decides upon which issues the diocese will focus its advocacy and education efforts.

New York’s bishops, through the New York State Catholic Conference, have called for lawmakers to uphold the state’s current ban on physician-assisted suicide and increase access to hospice and palliative care.

“Lifting New York’s ban on assisted suicide would provide a deadly, unnecessary option to patients, many of whom legitimately fear pain, depression and abandonment. These persons can be significantly helped through pain relief, palliative care, the hospice environment and compassionate loving care,” the bishops wrote in a statement.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act currently sits in the health committee in both the state Senate and Assembly, said Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the Catholic conference.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), one of the lead sponsors of the legislation, has acknowledged that she does not yet have enough votes for the bill to pass, but encouraged her supporters to keep pushing for its passage, said Gallagher, who also is director of the Catholic Action Network, an arm of the state Catholic conference.

Gallagher said she does not believe the Senate and Assembly’s health committees will vote on the bill this year because it’s an election year, the legislative session is shorter than usual and lawmakers are preoccupied with a looming state deficit. Nonetheless, Catholics need to continue urging their lawmakers to oppose the Medical Aid in Dying Act, she said.

“Doctor-assisted suicide has now been legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia, and its supporters have their sights set on New York,” Gallagher said. “As Catholic citizens, it is our responsibility to be attentive to what our elected representatives are doing at the state Capitol. And we must be vocal in opposing assisted suicide and supporting services and resources for the terminally ill that will enable them to live — and die — with true dignity.”

The Diocese of Rochester’s petitions will be available in parishes during or after weekend liturgies in February. In addition, Catholics also can send messages of opposition to the Medical Aid in Dying Act through the Catholic conference’s website, www.nyscatholic.org.

Parishioners also are encouraged to educate themselves about the issue of physician-assisted suicide and the Catholic perspective on end-of-life issues. In January, the Cathedral Community in Rochester hosted a workshop about physician-assisted suicide, and last fall, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry offered a course on “Catholic Bioethics: A Matter of Life and Death.“

A website created by the diocesan Office of Life Issues, LifeROC.org, is filled with resources and information, according to Shannon Kilbridge, the office’s director.

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