New Jersey’s Medicaid-covered assisted suicide law drew strong words of condemnation from one Roman Catholic bishop in New Jersey Monday. Governor Phil Murphy, a Catholic who claimed he didn’t support the law, nonetheless signed it in April, calling it the “right thing to do.”
The new law, which took effect August 1st, allows anyone over the age of 18 with a terminal illness and 6 months or less to live to end their own life on the taxpayers’ dime, either through self-administered drugs or by information about lethal doses of drugs.
But legality does not imply morality, as Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen reminded his flock. “Assisted suicide is a grievous affront to the dignity of human life and can never be morally justified,” Bishop Checchio said in his letter on July 29th. “The legal permission now granted to this practice does not change the moral law.”
Because the state of New Jersey has refused to uphold the moral law with this new measure, it has failed its primary duty, he says. “Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities.”
And in fact, the vulnerable do suffer under legal assisted suicide. The Netherlands, which legalized assisted suicide in 2002, is a sobering case study of social degeneration through the slippery slope of euthanasia. What started out as a law intended for terminal conditions has in recent years been used to euthanize people who have conditions like dementia, mild disabilities, or even autism. Legalized euthanasia creates a culture in which vulnerable populations are pressured to kill themselves, a situation that led a prominent former euthanasia advocate in The Netherlands, Theo Boer, to warn, “Look closely at the Netherlands because this is where your country may be 20 years from now.”
Instead of euthanizing those at the end of their lives, Bishop Checchio urged instead a new commitment to caring for those suffering at the natural end of their lives.
“As Catholics, we are called to show a different approach to death and the dying; one which accompanies every person as they are dying and allows them to love and to be loved to the very end.” And because “the purposeful termination of human life via a direct intervention is not a humane action,” the bishop pointed out that, since Saint Peter’s University Hospital is a Catholic hospital compliant with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), it is prohibited from condoning or participating with euthanasia or assisted suicide, and thus is would not be complying with the law.
Respecting human dignity and human life from conception to natural death is at the core of Catholic healthcare, the bishop said. “We ought to look instead to minimizing the pain and suffering of the dying and those who are tempted to end their lives,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals, choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”
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