End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

DOGMA VS. DIGNITY: National End-of-Life Care Expert Responds to Roman Catholic Bishops’ New Attack on End-of-Life Choiceby Jay


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has launched a new attack on
terminal patients’ end–of-life choice and aims to impose its religious orthodoxy on
ALL Americans. Instruction from the USSCB prompted calls for doctrinal purity
among lawmakers, healthcare institutions and universities.

The USCCB adopted a statement last week at its national conference in Bellevue,
Washington, including the doctrinal rationale for opposing aid in dying: “As
Christians we believe that even suffering itself need not be meaningless …
suffering accepted in love can bring us closer to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice
for the salvation of others.”

The Roman Catholic bishops specifically criticized Compassion & Choices, the
nation’s largest nonprofit organization advocating for end-of-life care. The
bishops’ statement distorts the values and work of Compassion & Choices’ and
misrepresents our work, claiming it “undermines patients’ freedom by putting
pressure on them.”

The Roman Catholic bishops’ statement is full of reckless, unsubstantiated
accusations such as that aid in dying advocates have “voiced support for ending the
lives of people who never asked for death.” With tactics reminiscent of
McCarthyism, Catholic operatives then launched attacks on the character and
loyalty of political adversaries. All Americans should be alarmed, as people who
take instruction from the Bishops talk of imposing “sanctions” on political leaders,
educators and medical care providers who disagree. One in ten Americans in a
hospital is in a Catholic hospital.

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, responds to the
bishops’ new attack on patient choice, “We welcome the Catholic bishops’ clear
statement that opposition to aid in dying is a matter of religious belief. While we
respect religious instruction to those of the Catholic faith, we find it unacceptable
to impose the teachings of one religion on everyone in a pluralistic society. We
believe end-of-life care should follow the patient’s values and beliefs, and good
medical practice, but not be restricted against the patient’s will by Catholic Church

Through hospitals, insurance plans, nursing homes and hospices, Catholic
institutions are directly responsible for implementing Catholic doctrine in
healthcare. In 2001, 31 percent of Americans received care in a Catholic facility.

Writing in a high-profile Catholic publication five days after the bishops spoke, a
Catholic spokesperson singled out aid-in-dying supporters within the Church:
theologians, bioethicists and law professors on the faculty at Jesuit universities.
Because their views conflict with the bishops’ on end-of-life choice, the
spokesperson recommends censorship. Do such accusations of impurity in thought
not echo our nation’s darkest history of blacklisting intellectuals? Will tenure track
interviewers soon inquire, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any
organization that supports aid in dying?”

The false claims of the Roman Catholic bishops and other Catholic
spokespeople include:

“(Compassion & Choices) concealed its agenda … (that) promotes neither free
choice nor compassion.”

“Leaders of the ‘aid in dying’ movement in our country have also voiced support
for ending the lives of people who never asked for death, whose lives they see as
meaningless or as a costly burden on the community.”

“Studies indicate that untreated pain among terminally ill patients may increase
and development of hospice care can stagnate after assisted suicide is legalized.”

“‘AID IN DYING CROWD LOVES ABORTION’ … Those who delight in
helping people die like to invoke the values of compassion and choice. … Donors
include … the NYS NARAL Foundation. … Pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia—
that’s what makes C&C tick.”

“It’s one thing to state your position based on your religious beliefs, and quite
another to falsify, bully, sanction, lobby and impose that religious belief on
others,” said Coombs Lee. “The bishops misstate our work, our beliefs, our
mission and the fourteen years of Oregon experience with aid in dying. That
experience shows better end-of-life care, more choice and more peaceful deaths.”

We welcome significant opportunities to debate or discuss the appropriate role of
Roman Catholic doctrine on end-of-life choice in a religiously diverse society.

To schedule an interview with Barbara Coombs Lee, please call Steve
Hopcraft, 916.457.5546; steve@hopcraft.com

For more information please visit www.compassionandchoices.org