Bad Medicine

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

“The Attorney General took a significant step to protect the elderly and the sick,” said Congressman Chris Smith. “I commend Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George Bush for correcting a seriously flawed 1998 ruling by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, which authorized the use of federally regulated drugs to assist vulnerable patients in committing suicide.

“Terminally ill men and women have the same innate worth and dignity as all other human beings and are especially in need of our love and support,” Smith said. “When a society singles out the weakest and most vulnerable patients as candidates for physician-assisted suicide, it denies the value of their very lives, and thereby undermines respect for their dignity and their legitimate needs — including their need for the best possible palliative care.”

Smith added that euthanasia should never be considered medicine. “Our focus should be on killing pain instead of making it easier to kill people,” he said.

“This important directive not only ends the federal government’s involvement in assisted suicide, but also promotes improved pain management for patients near the end of life,” said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“In other federal programs, and in states passing new laws against assisted suicide, use of controlled substances for pain control has dramatically improved once the law recognizes a clear difference between intentional taking of life and the unintended side effects of necessary pain control,” Bishop Fiorenza said.

The bishop said Ashcroft’s decision respects this medical and ethical distinction.

“Suicide among the sick and elderly is not a ‘medical’ practice,” he said. “It is a tragic public health problem that deserves our concern and caring response. Good medicine and good law call on physicians to kill pain, not patients.”

“For decades, the federal Controlled Substances Act clearly held that dangerous substances regulated by the act can only be prescribed by doctors for a legitimate medical purpose,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. “It is both bizarre and frightening that allowing doctors to kill their patients could ever have been considered a ‘legitimate medical purpose.’”

Anderson said the Justice Department’s decision reaffirms the inherent dignity of our most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled and the terminally ill.

“A license to prescribe federally controlled drugs should be a license to care and comfort patients, not a license to kill,” he said.

In his recent column featured in Touched by Grace, Father William P. Saunders writes that the Catholic Church gives clear guidance regarding the care of the terminally ill, which is linked with the moral teaching concerning euthanasia and life support systems.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released in 1980 its Declaration on Euthanasia which clarified this guidance, especially in light of the increasing complexity of life-support systems and the promotion of euthanasia as a valid means of ending life, said Father Saunders.

“The Catholic Church holds as sacred both the dignity of each individual person and the gift of life,” he said. “We respect the sacredness of the continuum of life from conception to natural death.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a clear explanation of Church teaching on this subject.

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