Cardinal O’Malley: Church and its allies stopped ‘terrible assault’ of doctor-assisted suicide bill

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, thanked his fellow bishops and Catholic organizations from across the United States for helping to defeat doctor-assisted suicide on the Massachusetts statewide ballot Nov. 6.

O’Malley, in remarks prepared for delivery in Baltimore Monday at the main annual gathering of American bishops, said the church, along with interfaith allies and help from disabilities groups, medical associations, and hospice groups had stopped a “terrible assault on human life.”

He pointed to the Netherlands, where doctor-assisted suicide is legal, and where a group is now creating mobile teams that will offer euthanasia to patients at home, making lethal drugs more widely available to patients. The United States, O’Malley said, is a long way from that, but only because voters here have drawn a line.

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“What has put the brakes on the growth of physician-assisted suicide in the U.S. is that more than 20 states have rejected proposed legislation and ballot initiatives,” he said.

But he said the church’s work is not done on the issue. He called on Catholic organizations to do more to reduce suffering at the end of life so that fewer people have reason to seek a doctor’s help accelerating the process.

“Just as in our struggle against abortion, it is not enough simply to condemn abortion, but we need to help to take care of the women whose lives are in turmoil because of a pregnancy,” he said, according to remarks. “In the same way, we need to reach out to those facing difficulties at the end of life.”

The church, he said, must work with hospice and palliative care groups to offer pain relief to more terminally ill people.

“Fear of tremendous pain is advanced as a reason to support physician-assisted suicide,” he said. “In almost every instance palliative care can suppress pain.”

Ballot Question 2, which proponents called “Death with Dignity,” would have given people with less than six months to live access to prescription drugs to end their lives. Polls from six weeks before the election showed widespread support for the measure, but it failed by 2 points following a $4 million ad blitz funded largely by Catholic institutional and individual donors.

The Catholic church teaches that suicide is always objectively wrong, though whether it is considered a sin depends on the psychological and physiological state of a person who takes his or her own life.

O’Malley said that the last time Massachusetts considered doctor-assisted suicide, he was the bishop of Fall River; following its defeat in the Legislature, he said, he and his staff began establishing Alzheimer’s units in all the nursing homes in the diocese, and improved pain management services as well.

“Those are the kinds of things that we need to do in the Archdiocese of Boston and throughout the nation,” O’Malley said.