On Sept. 7 the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that access to physician-assisted suicide is not a constitutionally protected right, and as such, the state’s current law against physician-assisted suicide is constitutional. Furthermore, the court ruled that there are no exceptions to this prohibition on assisted suicide.
The court’s decision was lauded by the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in public-policy matters. Not only did the court rule that physicians may not assist in their patients’ deaths, but it also ruled that there is a logical distinction between refusing life-sustaining treatment and actively assisting in suicide, according to a Sept. 7 statement from Kathleen M. Gallagher, the Catholic conference’s director of pro-life activities.
This assertion backs up one of the points made by Peter J. Colosi during an Aug. 3 presentation at St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport. A Fairport native himself, Colosi is an assistant professor of philosophy at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., and before that was an associate professor of moral theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.
Choosing to forgo extraordinary treatment does not equate to killing, Colosi said during his talk on “Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) vs. Euthanasia: A Catholic Understanding of Compassion, Suffering and Death in the Current Euthanasia Debate.” Rather, he said, to opt to forgo extraordinary treatment is to humbly accept the inevitability of death.
What does equate to killing, he said, is euthanasia, either by omission or action.
One example of euthanasia by action is the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014. She moved from California, which had not yet legalized physician-assisted suicide, to Oregon, which had, and voluntarily ingested a lethal dose of medication prepared for her by a doctor, Colosi said.
An example of euthanasia by omission is the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years before dying in 2005 nearly two weeks after her feeding tube — containing artificial nutrition and hydration — was removed.
Pro-euthanasia arguments frequently cite a desire to stop suffering, but Colosi said suffering is just as inevitable as death, and has intrinsic meaning. John Paul II wrote that suffering is important because it unleashes love, Colosi added.
When we see that a person we love is suffering, warmth wells up in our hearts toward that person, and this is an interior unleashing of love, he said. This typically is accompanied by an exterior unleashing of love, or a desire to take action to help our loved one, Colosi said. John Paul II believed that if enough people unleashed this love, it would create a whole culture or civilization of caring for the vulnerable, he said.
Catholics have long believed in the importance of caring for the most vulnerable among them, because Catholics believe every single person is beautiful and precious and has worth and dignity, Colosi said. It can be hard, however, for people to recognize their own worth if they do not feel love from those around them, he added.
“We need to be loved by a person just for ourselves in order to believe in our own preciousness,” he said.
This belief in the fundamental worth and dignity of every person is one of the biggest reasons to oppose physician-assisted suicide. Legalizing euthanasia is really saying — although not in so many words — that some people are worthless enough to be killed, he said.
Pro-euthanasia laws — including the Medical Aid in Dying Act (S.3151/A.2383), which was introduced in the New York state Senate and Assembly last year — always contain “guidelines” intended to stop abuses, Colosi said. These laws basically say it’s only alright to kill anyone who meets these specific requirements, but killing anyone who doesn’t meet these requirements would still be horrible. However, these guidelines, which he likened to little boxes, inevitably will loosen over time, he added.
“If you say we will kill some people, you have removed the only thing that can stop it from spreading, because you said some people are worthless enough to be killed. The concept of guidelines is silly once you decide that some people are going to be in the box that we kill,” Colosi said.