Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In our Catholic tradition we often refer to the Church as our Mother. We perceive her as a mother who lovingly accompanies us throughout life, and who especially wishes to support and guide us when we are faced with difficult situations and decisions. It is from this perspective that we, the Bishops of the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly, wish to share with you this pastoral reflection on “medical assistance in dying”.
Federal legislation passed in June of 2016 has legalized “medical assistance in dying” in our country. This new legislation allows physicians and nurse practitioners to provide two types of medical assistance in dying: directly administering a substance that causes death (voluntary euthanasia), or giving or prescribing a drug that is self-administered to cause death (medically assisted suicide). This new legislation raises many questions and concerns for the sick and suffering and for their family and friends. Likewise it raises questions and concerns for medical professionals, health care providers and the pastors of souls. It challenges us as a Church and as individual Catholics to defend, with renewed commitment, that life in all its stages is a sacred gift from God; to affirm that, while something may be legally acceptable, this does not make it morally acceptable; to grow in our understanding of the Church’s moral teaching on this issue, and it calls us to discern how best to accompany those who find themselves struggling with illness, pain and difficult medical circumstances.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a highly complex and intensely emotional issue which profoundly affects all of us. It makes us aware that some people have become convinced that, at a certain point, there is no longer any “value” in their lives, because their suffering has become unbearable or they cannot function as they once did or they feel a burden to their family and society. People with such a conviction or in such circumstances deserve our understanding, respect for their point of view, but also a compassionate pastoral response for it is our belief that a person’s value arises from the inherent dignity persons have as human beings and not from how well they function.
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