Assisted suicide: Everyone has an opinion, including the Catholic church

Catholic Church Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano believes palliative care is an alternative to assisted suicide. (Flickr/Prayitno. Used with a CC BY 2.0 license.)

Catholic Church Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano believes palliative care is an alternative to assisted suicide. (Flickr/Prayitno. Used with a CC BY 2.0 license.)

The End of Life Option Act, also known as the bill that authorizes physicians to administer terminally ill patient’s life-ending medication went into effect June 9 this year in California. Currently there are four other states in the country that have also permitted the option to their fellow state residents, who wish to end their life.

According to Sen. Bill Monning in a statement earlier this year, it was something of a historic moment for California.

“It could indeed be a transformative way of giving them the option of a compassionate end-of-life process,” Monning said.

What this bill enacts in particular is that by law two doctors must come to a general agreement upon the state of the patient and whether they are a candidate to have help in an assisted suicide. Those patients must fit a requirement that doctors would have to diagnose would have six or less months to live.

Following, patients would have to be able to sign for the medication 48 hours before the procedure, by which they then would be able to end their life.

In San Juan Capistrano, at Catholic Church Mission Basilica, Adult Faith formation director Eileen Smith, said that for the church it’s not something that they necessarily stand by.

For the church, assisted suicide can often times, as seen by a case-by-case scenario, be worse than suicide. Within the religion ideals, someone who takes their life away may be in a bad place in their life or mentally unhealthy, and therefore those individuals are granted a funeral, as they maybe didn’t feel they had a choice.

“The church looks at that situation as being someone who under the mercy of God, we commend them to God’s mercy,” Smith said. “Usually if a person takes their life we’ll have a regular Catholic funeral mass for them, assuming that they were not well mentally.”

However for individuals who are looking for help to end their life, it is not something the church can stand by as it is a conscious choice to go through with the procedure.

“Because the Catholic church believes that all life is sacred and that everyone has the dignity of human life that it is morally wrong to take a life, even if that person is given an indication that their life is coming to an end,” Smith said.

Instead the church she says would offer palliative care in replacement for those wishing to receive assistance to end their life to relieve the suffering through other medical means.

There have been instances she says that when a priest is called upon to pray for those in the midst to end their life through doctor’s approval that there is a specific protocol.

“Normally a priest who is in that situation would not be able to give the sacrament of the sick person because they are persisting in wanting to take their life,” Smith said.

What a priest can do however is pray for them, and offer encouragements to not go through with the procedure. Consequently, the priest must also leave before the patient either take the pill or receives injections.

For Smith, she works with all ages readying to enter the life of a Catholic. Her job as an Adult Faith Formation Director includes preparing them with their sacraments and baptism to fully live the Catholic lifestyle.

Smith also works very closely with the families and a grief support organization that helps families that have lost loved ones who committed suicide, once a month.

“When a young person is having issues to take their life, in my experience, I think the symptoms are there in the family at home,” Smith said.

However a number of years ago, Smith recalls that a young student who she was working closely with in the church, gave no indication that he was contemplating suicide. To her disbelief, the young man did.

“He was here one day Sunday, and the next day he took his life, so it was very tragic and from that point on i’ve been very aware, trying to keep up to date on what’s happening with the children i’m preparing for baptism in our religious ed program,” Smith said.