Montana Catholic Bishop Promises to Fight Assisted Suicide Court Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 5, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Montana Catholic Bishop Promises to Fight Assisted Suicide Court Ruling

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 5
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — The Catholic bishop of Helena, Montana has written a new column in which he says he will pledge to fight the court decision a state judge issued making the state the third to legalize assisted suicide. Bishop George L. Thomas of Helena says the church will support an appeal of that decision.

Judge Dorothy McCarter issued a ruling in December declaring that a patient in a lawsuit and mentally competent, terminally ill Montana residents like him can self-administer drugs given to them in prescriptions from willing doctors.

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath is filing an appeal to overturn the decision.

The bishop indicated attorneys for the church will file an amicus brief supporting McGrath’s efforts to get the Montana Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

In the column in the recent issue of the Montana Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Helena, Bishop Thomas says, "Legalizing assisted suicide is a social experiment that we will work to prevent."

Thomas called McCarter’s decision "extremely disappointing" and that it "echoes disturbing actions taken in the states of Oregon and Washington, introducing this blatant disregard for human life into our own state."

"The timing of this decision could not be more ironic," Thomas added. "Recently the Montana Legislature established a suicide prevention office due to concerns (about) the high rate of suicides in Montana, which is the highest per capita in the nation."

"We are now being told that death by suicide is ‘death with dignity,’ in seeming contradiction to the stated goal of reduction," the bishop continued. "When we cheapen life by allowing people to end it when and how they choose, we send a message to others struggling with suicidal ideations."

Thomas also criticized McCarter for comparing assisted suicide to putting a beloved pet to sleep.

"Is the judge intimating that there is no clear difference between animals and people?" he asked. "Does the court ruling not recognize the dignity and inherent worth of every person, a worth that is neither conferred nor removed by the state? If this is the court’s intended meaning, then we criticize in harshest terms attempts to degrade the God-given value of every human being."

The decision to file an amicus brief stands in contrast to the Montana Medical Association, which refuses to get involved even though other state medical groups have done so in other states.

The MMA position puts it at odds with its parent organization, which has a policy opposing assisted suicide as "fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer."

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