Reprinted here with permission from Bishop Larry Silva.
“While our Legislature may not base its decisions on eternal consequences, it should still think beyond the individual terminally ill person,” writes Larry Silva, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, in opposition to HB 2739.
Etymology, the study of the roots of words, has always fascinated me. Take the word “autonomy,” which derives from the Greek “auto,” meaning “self” and “nomos,” meaning “law.” To be autonomous then is to live by one’s own law.
The recent discussions regarding the House Bill 2739, the so-called Our Care, Our Choice Act, tout autonomy. Yet I find it ironic that the act of taking one’s life, which people have been doing quite autonomously for thousands of years, is now only to be sanctioned if one has the permission of one’s “health” care provider, the state Legislature and the governor.
My wonder at this apparent contradiction is compounded when I think of how, until now, we have prided ourselves on helping people not take their own lives. We have suicide prevention programs and hotlines, and have always considered suicide a tragedy that wreaks havoc on so many survivors who feel grief and frustration that they were not able to prevent this “autonomous” decision from being made.
Of course, I have heard the reply, “This is not suicide.” In fact, HB 2739 speaks of the death certificate that is to be prepared once a person has freely decided to take a life-ending chemical. It says, “The death certificate shall list the terminal disease as the immediate cause of death.” In other words, it will lie about the real immediate cause of death, which is freely and deliberately ingesting a poison into one’s system. If we call it another name besides suicide, then it may become respectable.
Under no circumstances should we call it what it is, since certain insurance benefits may not be available to one’s estate if one commits suicide. So let’s also lie to the insurance company by calling it “death with dignity” or some other title that will make it sound more respectable.
As a spiritual leader, I also must raise the question of whether someone who deliberately, with documentable soundness of mind and determination of will, violates God’s basic commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” may be flirting with a fate worse than a debilitating terminal illness. That person may be very surprised to arrive in the next life only to be met with unimaginable pain and isolation, from which there is no pill that will ever allow escape. God does allow us the autonomy to make such decisions, but he warns us of the dire consequences — and relentlessly attempts to turn us away from such self-destructive decisions.
While our Legislature may not base its decisions on eternal consequences, it should still think beyond the individual terminally ill person.
What of family members who will have to live with the weight of their own consciences regarding this very unnatural process? What of those who are suffering depression, which can be even more dark and painful than physical pain, including our beloved young people? Won’t this suggest to them that if life becomes too burdensome, checking oneself out of it sooner than later is a legitimate option?
If this door to choosing death is opened, will insurance companies and health care facilities continue to provide very expensive but ingenious treatments, developed over generations by scientists, technicians, and medical personnel? Or will the “bottom line” lead them to refuse these expensive treatments because the patient has the choice of a much quicker and less expensive death?
Will medical personnel or pharmacists be forced to provide a lethal drug against their consciences because the patient has lawfully insisted upon having it? In other words, the “auto” in “autonomous” would easily become a cancer that would inflict us all.
Larry Silva is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.