To the Parishioners of the Diocese of Honolulu regarding Assisted Suicide Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Peace be with you!
At this time our beloved State of Hawaii is considering going the way of other states in making physician assisted suicide acceptable and legal. We need your prayers and your involvement to assure that this does not happen.
We presume that those who are proponents are acting out of what they believe to be very noble intentions. However, assisted suicide is yet another manifestation of what St. John Paul II referred to as the “culture of death,” while we are always committed to a culture of life.
Proponents do not refer to this as “suicide,” since suicide always implies a tragic choice, but rather as compassion in choices. Can anyone be opposed to compassion? And does not God himself give us freedom to make choices in our lives? As your pastor it is my obligation to expose what seems to be an act of goodness and caring as just the opposite, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing appears to be what it is not.
Proponents speak of the autonomy of the individual to make his or her own choice about when to die when faced with a painful or debilitating terminal illness. What strikes me as ironic, however, is that people have been committing suicide quite autonomously for thousands of years; yet now, in the name of “autonomy” one must have the permission of one’s doctor, lawyer, and legislature. Seeking such societal approval betrays full autonomy and exposes the fact that, deep down, people know this is not something good. The authority of others is being sought to give permission for what is against our human nature.
Another reality involved is our “disposable culture” as Pope Francis
calls it in his critiques. In this worldview, human beings who are
unproductive, weak, and vulnerable lose their “value,” and this
diminishes their true humanity. It cannot be denied that terminally ill
people have burdens to bear that are very heavy, and their caretakers
also have many hardships. It costs a tremendous amount of time and
money to care for someone who is very sick. Yet true compassion
means “suffering with” someone – or allowing others to suffer with
us – and while it is very humbling, the most intimate bonds of human
caring can be nurtured in just such circumstances. I recall a friend
who was dying of AIDS who told me he began to consider the disease
a blessing – not for the suffering and ultimate death it would bring,
but because he learned how many people truly cared for him. By
allowing himself to be vulnerable to them, he learned that compassion
is a form of love that binds us together quite intimately.
We often hear the Scriptures say, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10). This means that we are
wisest when we recognize that we are not gods ourselves, making all
our own choices and creating our own realities, and when we realize
that God’s law is not burdensome but the way that guides us to true
human freedom. Although God always gives us freedom to choose
whether to worship and obey God or not, he also makes it clear that
there are consequences to our choices. While we know that God is
merciful and compassionate beyond our imaginations, he also has
taught us that we can choose to reject him, and such a choice leads to
our eternal detriment. Wisdom dictates that if one decides to take to
him- or herself the decision about when life should end, rather than
leaving that decision to God, one should be aware of the real
possibility that such a choice could backfire. If a person is suffering
tremendously in this life and takes the decision to escape by ending
one’s life, there should be no surprise if on the other side of this life,
there is suffering that cannot compare to any earthly suffering. And
there is no medication that will allow one to escape from this eternal
suffering! God wants to give us eternal life and joy, but the wisdom
that takes us there is fear of the Lord.
We are talking here, of course, of those who, with clear mind and
will, decide to end their lives. We know that most suicides are
committed by people who do not have clear minds and wills, whose
depression has locked them into such darkness that they do not think
there is any other escape besides suicide. Just as we view this as a
tragedy, but still feel real mercy toward the person, I am sure God’s
mercy also goes out to these tortured souls. But the proposed law that
allows physician assisted suicide usually stipulates that the person
must be terminally ill and make a full and conscious choice to request
the “medication.” Perhaps in some way, this is even more tragic for
the person who ends life in this way, perhaps for the loved ones, and
certainly for society itself, which actually fails in its compassion and
A bishop in a state that already allows physician assisted suicide
spoke of his mother in a care home, and how she was so readily
offered the choice of ending her life with medication. It was an
indicator that once the door is open to embracing death so easily, the
slope to euthanasia – or a culture of euthanasia – is not far behind. It
is certainly cheaper and easier to end a life than to care for it in the
midst of suffering. Will decisions be made on economic expediency?
Will others around the patient, such as heirs, be more motivated to aid
in the rapid demise of the patient for their own benefit? Will this be
another weapon in the hands of those who already abuse the elders
they care for, a problem that has become quite serious?
In light of all I have said, however, I do want to speak of the Church’s
desire to care for the sick and to alleviate as much pain as possible.
Physicians have told me that these days palliative care is so well
developed that no one need suffer the tremendous pain that often
comes with a terminal illness. While there is a sense in which
suffering can be redemptive, united to the sufferings that Christ
himself endured on the cross, the control of pain is certainly advisable
and available. Nor does the Catholic Church teach that a terminally
ill patient must exhaust all extraordinary means of medical care until
the very end. Dying is a natural part of life, and it is meant to be the
gateway to eternal happiness with God. But such is only possible
when a person recognizes God’s sovereignty and does not give such
sovereignty to any person or any institution, including oneself.
As faithful citizens of Hawaii and stewards of the Gospel, I ask
you all to:
Pray fervently that physician assisted suicide will not be
permitted in our state;
Sign the petition that is being distributed by the Hawaii
Catholic Conference and encourage your family and
friends to do the same;
Contact your legislators and to ask them not to allow
physician assisted suicide in our state, no matter with
what euphemistic name it is cloaked. Visit
https://www.hawaiifamilyforum.org/action-center/ to find
out who your legislator is, send an email to your legislator
and to sign an online petition. By signing up online, you
will find out exactly when the bills are being heard and
any call to action.
The suffering of others is a call to us all, not to end life by offering a
lethal “medication,” but to care for them in love, even when it is most
difficult to do so. It is the way of love and true compassion that will
lead to eternal joy in the presence of the One who is Love!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Larry Silva
Bishop of Honolulu