Foes of Assisted Suicide Marshal Arguments

The Christian Century, March 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Foes of Assisted Suicide Marshal Arguments


Religious leaders from across the theological spectrum urged Congress March 6 to take steps to prevent the spread of physician-assisted suicide. "There are alternative solutions to the problems which assisted suicide purports to solve--solutions which do not demean human life or place pressure on helpless patients to end their lives," declared Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston at a congressional subcommittee hearing on the ethical, legal and social implications of assisted suicide.

The hearing, sponsored by the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and Environment, focused on the "Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997," a bill that would prohibit federally funded health programs from participating in assisted suicide. Law, chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was among several witnesses urging passage of the bill. "Federal health programs are designed to support and enhance life, not to destroy it," he said.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, expressed concern that any measures legalizing assisted suicide would not be practiced equally. "In the real medical world, the first people who will be assisted in ending their lives will be the poor, those without family or friends, the elderly, the disabled and uninsured patients who cannot pay for their medical treatments," he warned. Rudin is a founding member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, which has taken a unanimous public position against the legalization of assisted suicide. Other religious leaders presenting testimony included David L. Adams, executive director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Office of Government Information, and Stanley Harakas of the Greek Orthodox Church.

But Cornelius Baker, executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, urged Congress not to interfere with the terminally ill who "seek to die a good and graceful death in the company of a caring physician and loved ones." According to Baker, "The act of dying for a terminally ill person is a uniquely private and many times painful experience to which the government should not place additional burden or hardship. Restricting physician and other medical care that is federally supported would do so."

Meanwhile, a two-day interfaith symposium, "Life At Risk: A Closer Look at Assisted Suicide," involving more than a dozen international religious leaders, ethicists and legal experts, was convened March 7-8 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.

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