The nation’s Catholic bishops are concerned that a new federal proposal for end of life care is more focused on saving health care costs than on enhancing patient autonomy. The Catholic News Agency reports that the U.S. bishops believe a new proposal from the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) needs stronger exclusions of assisted suicide and should show more “concern for the well-being and freedom of patients.”
In a letter to HHS, they said, “We hold that each human life, at every stage and in every condition, has innate dignity, and that acts or omissions directly intended to take an innocent life are never justified. We also recognize that the moral obligation to preserve one’s life has limits, particularly when the means offered for supporting life may be useless or impose burdens that are disproportionate to their benefits.”
Although the bishops do not object to the HHS proposal altogether, which would reimburse Medicare providers for advance care planning counseling sessions, they did say it had several deficiencies. The bishops said the rules in the proposal should not promote “packaged healthcare,” which is usually biased toward withdrawing care; instead it should focus on the “full range” of advanced care planning that is available.
They also told HHS that the rules should encourage patients to read any document they sign carefully and inform them of resources that are available from religious denomination for moral guidance. Finally, the bishops’ counsel said the rules should treat counseling sessions as an opportunity for suicide prevention and “completely exclude counseling and documents that present lethal actions such as assisted suicide or euthanasia as treatment options.
Ultimately, the bishops want to ensure that a standard of “equality of life” is upheld in the rules and that it does not put people with disabilities, or those suffering from advanced illnesses, in jeopardy. Additionally, CNA News reported that the proposed rule’s preamble is confusing and inconsistent; and the proposal does not reflect statutory guidance concerning federal laws that prohibit funding for assisted suicide.
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In 2014, the assisted suicide debate was reignited in our country after 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard legally killed herself under Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Oregon is one of five states, along with New Mexico, Montana, Washington, and Vermont that allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act passed in 1997 and has allowed for 1,173 prescriptions, with 752 deaths resulting from access of the medication.
Since Maynard’s death, Catholic leaders have reiterated their opposition for assisted suicide. In fact, the Archbishop of Los Angeles called California legislation that would legalize assisted suicide a “failure of moral imagination.”
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez explained, “The compassion that doctor-assisted suicide offers is hollow. And this legislation has dangerous implications for our state, especially for the poor and vulnerable. There is no denying that in California and nationwide we face a public health crisis in the way we treat patients who are terminally ill and at the end of life. But the answer to fear and a broken system is to fix the system and address the fears. It is not to kill the one who is afraid and suffering.”
“The debate over doctor-assisted suicide is a distraction that is preventing us from confronting the real issues that we face in public health,” citing Americans’ longer lives and the growing incidence of such age-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.