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Background

Statistics show that overall the world population is getting older.(1)  In addition, many have been touched by someone who is faced with a “terminal illness", debilitating accident or a natural disability.  The Church remains a stalwart of protection for these vulnerable individuals in our society.   In his 1995 encyclical letter The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul II sounded an alarm. In the midst of a culture that congratulates itself on being enlightened and progressive on matters of human rights, he said, we are very much in danger of giving in to a "culture of death."(2) Modern debates on abortion and euthanasia are a symptom and leading edge of something more profound and insidious -- an entire view of the world that will lead us to forsake our ideals of human dignity and equality and "revert to a state of barbarism."(3)

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.  Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”(4) “Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh, is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church.  Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s heart; it cannot affect her but at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature.”(5)  “Euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing ‘perversion’ of mercy. True ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another’s pain: it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.”(6)

Facts & Figures

Definitions of Assisted-Suicide and Euthanasia

  • The terms "assisted suicide” and “euthanasia" are often used interchangeably. However, even though the person impacted dies from a foreign substance rather than an underlying illness, there are differences.

  • Physician-assisted suicide: Involves a medical doctor who intentionally provides a patient with the means to kill him or herself, usually by an overdose of prescription medication.

  • Assisted suicide: Involves a layperson providing the patient with the deadly means for suicide.

  • Euthanasia: Involves the intentional and direct killing of a patient by a physician, most commonly by lethal injection, or by another party. Euthanasia can be voluntary (at the patient's request), non-voluntary (without the knowledge or consent of the patient), or involuntary (against the patient's wishes).

  • A person can reject medical treatment at the end of life without it being considered as assisted suicide or euthanasia. There are no laws, medical associations, church denominations, or right-to-life groups who insist that unnecessary, heroic, or truly futile treatments must be provided to prolong life and all recognize the right of competent patients to refuse medical treatment.


Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States

  • Assisted suicide is legal in the states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, New Jersey, and Hawaii (plus the District of Columbia). In 2009 the Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling which left the legality of assisted suicide in question. States considering legislation as of 2023 include Minnesota,, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Michigan, and Maryland.(7)

  • Euthanasia is not legal in any of the 50 states.


Important U.S. Court Decisions on Assisted Suicide

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in Washington v. Glucksberg that there is no federal constitutional substantive right to assisted suicide.(8) In a 1997 companion case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Vacco v. Quill that there is no federal constitutional equal protection right to assisted suicide.(9)

  • The Supreme Court of Alaska in Alaska v. Sampson declared there is no state constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide(10), as did the Florida State Supreme Court in McIver v. Kirscher.(11)

  • The Montana Supreme Court ruled in late 2009 that a person's consent to assisted suicide is a defense for doctors who provide lethal drugs.(12)


Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Other Countries

  • Assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely practiced in the Netherlands.(13) The Netherlands also adopted protocols which allow euthanasia for infants with disabilities.(14)

  • Assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in Colombia, Canada, Spain, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Luxembourg, and several states in Australia.(15)

  • Assisted suicide is technically not legal in Switzerland but widely practiced there.(16)

  • As of 2022, Germany and Italy were considering legislation with assisted suicide.(17)

1https://www.visualcapitalist.com/cp/charted-the-worlds-aging-population-1950-to-2100/#:~:text=population%20across%20countries.-,The%20World's%20Aging%20Population%20from%201950%20to%202100,and%20eventually%2024%25%20by%202100.

2https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html#:~:text=of%20a%20veritable-,%22culture%20of%20death%22.,-This%20culture%20is

3https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html#:~:text=revert%20to%20a%20state%20of%20barbarism

4https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/550/

5https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html#:~:text=3.%20Every%20individual,Mk%2016%3A15).

6https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html#:~:text=euthanasia%20must%20be%20called%20a%20false%20mercy%2C%20and%20indeed%20a%20disturbing%20%22perversion%22%20of%20mercy.%20True%20%22compassion%22%20leads%20to%20sharing%20another%27s%20pain%3B%20it%20does%20not%20kill%20the%20person%20whose%20suffering%20we%20cannot%20bear.

7https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/254197/assisted-suicide-in-the-united-states-where-is-it-legal

8https://www.oyez.org/cases/1996/96-110

9https://www.oyez.org/cases/1996/95-1858

10https://law.justia.com/cases/alaska/supreme-court/2001/s-9338-1.html

11https://casetext.com/case/krischer-v-mciver

12https://law.justia.com/cases/montana/supreme-court/2009/50c59956-3100-468d-b397-4ab38f6eda4d.html

13https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1120458/

14https://www.government.nl/topics/euthanasia/euthanasia-and-newborn-infants

15https://www.statista.com/chart/28133/assisted-dying-world-map/

16https://apm.amegroups.org/article/view/50986/html

17https://www.statista.com/chart/28133/assisted-dying-world-map/

Church Documents

Catechism of the Catholic Church

1. The Alvarez Family Story:
 
Sylvia and Serena Alvarez share the inspiring story of Deacon Sal Alvarez--how he fought for justice throughout his life, working for farmers' rights, advocating for access to health care for Latinos, and, near the end of his life, fighting against assisted suicide. They invite viewers to join them in continuing his fight for access to authentic health care, and against assisted suicide.

2. Cecilia's Story:
 
Cecilia Soñé, a nurse practitioner, says that legalizing assisted suicide sends the false message that some lives are worth caring for and others are not. Watch to learn how she went into medicine to help heal patients, not to help kill them!

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