Assisted suicide has suddenly become a major issue in New York state following the filing of a bill to allow it in Albany.
There is also a lawsuit by three terminally ill patients demanding that doctors not be prosecuted for assisting suicide where there is informed patient consent.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has disagreed strongly with the bill.
“The real death with dignity, the real heroes are those who die naturally, who take each day at a time, savoring everything they’ve got. That is death with dignity,” Dolan said in an exclusive interview with the Daily News.
He is correct in saying there is no more profound conversation to be had than about how we wish to die, whether we want extraordinary methods to keep us alive and how our wishes should be clear.
But the act of dying can be profoundly painful and lengthy for those undergoing that dark night of the soul and no religion on earth can help with the pain.
One hopes the cardinal never finds himself as so many do – in bodies wracked with intolerable pain, no hope of survival and literally gasping for their next breath.
With the best will in the world, there is not a religion on earth that can alleviate such suffering and make it somehow better to last to the bitter end unaided.
There is no dignity in such deaths and it has been my misfortune to witness them.
I would gladly have pulled a plug in the final days as my mother died from pancreatic cancer if that plug meant it was extending her pain-filled life at that stage. I would have considered it an act of love.
Cardinal Dolan is right to discuss the dignity of the human person, but surely the ultimate decision lies with the individual themselves?
The four states that have physician-assisted suicide – Oregon, Washington, Vermont and New Mexico – have administered it in a thoughtful, caring way that has strict rules governing the clear and precise consent being granted by the sick patient, at least two doctors agreeing the case was hopelessly terminal and the dying patient taking the pills or medicine themselves.
There have been 1,713 people in Oregon who have partaken of the provision to end their own lives. There has yet to have been a botched case or a family saying the patient never meant it - unlike say the death penalty as administered by state governments.
Cardinal Dolan is right to point out the excesses, the euthanasia merchants who would take life without the explicit agreement of the ill person.
But as actor and comedian Malachy McCourt recently noted, no one is getting out here alive, so it is really an intensely personal decision, especially for those in real agony.
To assume there is some good to come from prolonging desperate suffering in the name of a caring God seems wrong to me. I think New York should follow the brave trailblazers in those other four states and make it legal under strict guidelines here.
To do otherwise is to deny reality.