In 2008, Washington voters were again faced with an assisted suicide initiative. The passing of the so-called “Death with Dignity” initiative (I-1000) made Washington only the second state, after Oregon, to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The initiative proposed a fundamental change in civil law that allows physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who request them.
The Church teaches that our obligation is to nurture and support life, but never to harm or destroy it. Our teaching distinguishes between killing—which is an intentional action or omission to bring about the death of another, and allowing to die—which is withholding or withdrawing treatment that is no longer helping a patient and may actually be harming them. The morality of any action is judged by one’s intention. In the case of assisted suicide, the intention is to cause the death of another person.
Human beings are by nature social and interdependent. No one person’s freedom is absolute. Individual freedom must be weighed against the needs of the common good, which should be reflected in our laws. Therefore, our laws should enable us to live together in society, upholding our common values, and protecting vulnerable and defenseless people.
Death will come to us all at some point, and when that time comes, if healing is no longer possible, then patients should be provided good palliative (comfort) care. Instead of seeking ways to end lives, we should strive, as compassionate people, to seek life-giving ways to care for dying persons among us.
During the U.S. Bishops' 2011 Spring General Assembly held in Seattle, the bishops debated and voted on a document on physician-assisted suicide. The document, To Live Each Day with Dignity, is the first statement on assisted suicide by the full body of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Please visit the USCCB for more information on the issue of physician-assisted suicide.