End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts TaggedPerry Mitchell

Bishops’ Actions at Odds With Call for Religious Freedom

U.S. Conference Imposes Catholic Doctrine on Non-Catholics

Atlanta, GA – Compassion & Choices  today called on Catholic
Bishops to acknowledge that their own actions limit religious freedom. The United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meets this week in Atlanta. The meeting,
according to USCCB press materials, “will include a two-hour floor discussion on domestic
and international religious freedom.”

“It’s ironic the bishops are convening in Georgia to discuss religious freedom,” said Perry
Mitchell, incoming president of Compassion & Choices’ Georgia chapter. “Just weeks ago
the Catholic Conference lobbied the Georgia legislature to outlaw as ‘assisted suicide’
accepted end-of-life medical practices and support for terminally ill patients making
rational, informed decisions. In lobbying government to restrict end-of-life choices, the
bishops are imposing Catholic doctrine on patients and physicians – Catholic and non-
Catholic alike.”

With HB1114, the Georgia legislature originally aimed to outlaw suicide assistance. Yet the
bulk of the bill focuses not on people who aid and abet mentally ill, suicidal individuals, but
on doctors delivering end-of-life care. It repeatedly specifies that any withholding,
withdrawing, prescribing, administering or dispensing of medical services must be solely
intended and calculated to relieve symptoms. Patients are never allowed to make a rational
decision to advance the time of death. The new law gags patients who might express a wish
to die. It makes doctors more vulnerable to accusations of “assisted suicide” merely for
providing treatments that relieve end-of-life suffering. During legislative debate, the
Georgia House speaker even thanked the Catholic Conference for helping to write the bill.

The bishops are working to impose their religious teaching not just in Georgia, but also
across the nation.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference has announced its opposition to the Death with
Dignity ballot measure before that state’s voters this November, and it plans to mount a
vigorous — and likely expensive — campaign against it.

Through its vast national network of Catholic healthcare facilities, the bishops enforce
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare (ERDs). The bishops instruct
doctors to ignore advance directives that conflict with Catholic moral teaching (ERD #24),
obligate them — with few exceptions — to provide indefinite tube feeding to patients in
permanent vegetative states (ERD #58), disallow as “euthanasia” a patient’s refusal of
treatment such as kidney dialysis if they intend to advance the time of death (ERD’s #59
and 60), limit dying patients’ knowledge of treatment options to those the bishops consider
“morally legitimate” (ERD #55) and urge employees to offer religious teaching on the
redemptive power of suffering when standard comfort care fails (ERD #61).

With regard to Oregon and Washington’s Death with Dignity Acts, the bishops use the
machinery of Catholic healthcare to violate informed consent principles and withhold
information about aid in dying, a legal end-of-life choice. Catholic hospitals, hospices and
healthcare systems in those states instruct their employees to deprive patients in their care of
comprehensive knowledge of end-of-life choices.

“Over and over we see the bishops confuse the right to exercise their religion with a right to
impose their religion on Americans who don’t share it,” said Barbara Coombs Lee,
president of Compassion & Choices. “This is not a subtle difference.”