Ethicists Alarmed at Oregon Law: Growth of Assisted-Suicide Efforts Feared
Gibeau, Dawn, National Catholic Reporter
Catholic church officials and ethicists reacted with alarm to Oregon's new physician-assisted suicide law, the Ballot Measure 16 that passed in the November general election.
The law permits a patient, within six months of his or her expected death, to administer a lethal drug prescribed by a physician.
This is "a very ominous public policy development not just for Oregon" but for the entire world, because it makes Oregon "the first jurisdiction in the world to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide," said Robert Castagna, the Oregon Catholic Conference's executive director. The conference vigorously opposed the measure before it passed by an apparent 52 to 48 percent margin.
In the Netherlands, he explained, prosecutors choose not to confront physicians who assist in suicides, but euthanasia remains a violation of the Dutch penal code.
Castagna said the narrow win indicates "a rather severely divided public." When a simple majority enacts such a major policy change, the decision lacks consensus, he said. "We are violating fundamental positions, beliefs and policies of the minority."
Hilda Nelson, a research associate at the Hastings Center, a New York research institution that examines medical ethics issues, believes the issue of physicianassisted suicide will not go away, given previously defeated initiatives in California and Washington and Dr. Jack Kevorkian's assistance to many individuals who committed suicide in Michigan.
"You have to fight it out in public debates," she said. "We are a people who like to have control."
Dominican Fr. Kevin O'Rourke, who founded and directs the Center for Health Care Ethics at St. Louis University, said Oregon has the highest percentage of unchurched people of any state. As physician-assisted suicide proposals surface elsewhere, they can be challenged even among those who do not believe in life after death by showing "it is harmful for the common good to establish a mentality where you solve human problems by killing yourself."
He asked whether "society is going to stand for courage or for acquiescence to suffering by suicide." As an illustration, he said, "Have you ever heard anyone say, 'Oh, mom's committing suicide, isn't that wonderful?' We don't celebrate suicide," but try to explain why a person did it. In contrast, "if you go to a good wake of a person who died after suffering, you do celebrate the person's life and death" and perhaps their courage in facing suffering. …