Maryland March for Life Mass
Monday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time
St. Mary Parish, Annapolis
Mar. 4, 2019
Dear friends: As you know, a physician assisted suicide bill will be voted on by the Maryland House of Delegates later this week. As citizens, we should be alarmed by the very real possibility that assisted suicide could be legalized in our state. This evening we need to mobilize with even greater intensity, to convince our elected delegates to defeat a piece of legislation that would further undermine the dignity of human life in Maryland, including those who are frail, elderly, or chronically and terminally ill.
The bill under consideration is dubbed by its supporters as death with dignity but the death which this bill would allow for is anything but dignified. If a patient is approved by a physician to take his or her own life –and therein lies a great irony – that patient would then be allowed to procure a lethal dose of 90-100 secobarbitol pills. The patient would bring these pills home with the instructions to consume them on an empty stomach within the space of an hour so as to bring about his or her death. Notice that the patient is not in the care of a doctor nor is he or she necessarily surrounded by family and loved ones. Those who choose this path often face a lonely, medically-induced death that is anything but dignified, anything but compassionate, anything but commensurate with their God-given dignity.
And what happens when a person comes to his or her senses and decides not to die in this brutal way? In an already drug-ridden society, lethal pills are suddenly on the loose. They might be stored in the patient’s medicine cabinet where they are in the reach of other family members. Or, they might also find their way into wider circulation. In the face of Maryland’s epic opioid crisis, this is not good public policy.
But dangerous pills on the loose are only the beginning. At a time when healthcare costs are rising, we have to be worried that both government and the insurance industry will use physician-assisted suicide as a cost-cutting measure. In other words, when a person is chronically or terminally ill there will be money for lethal pills but not for treatment and not for palliative care. This has already occurred in states where physician assisted suicide is legal – In some cases there is insurance money for lethal pills but not cancer treatment.
Those who support this bill would deny this, of course, but their denials ring hollow. In those European countries where euthanasia has been legal for decades, it is no longer a question of a right to die but an obligation to die when one’s condition has become burdensome to the family and the medical system. In the Netherlands, adult children bring their elderly parents to this sad end without their full consent. In Belgium, sick and disabled children are being euthanized and in Canada guidelines are being developed under which children can asked to be euthanized without their parents’ consent. Political commentators often say that slippery slope arguments are not valid but history teaches a different lesson. Let us not imagine that this bill, if it were to be enacted, would be the end of this. In time there would be other bills that would expand the scope of assisted suicide. God forbid that suicide would become not a right but a duty.
Faith and Reason
Many physicians and other healthcare professionals testified against this bill. Those who are permanently disabled have testified against it as well as those who provide services for the disabled. Those who offer truly compassionate and effective palliative care for the dying have also testified against this destructive legislation. Indeed, what I have said thus far is not a matter of Church doctrine but rather a matter of sound reasoning about the bad consequences of the legislation now under consideration.
It is also the case, however, that many people of faith oppose this bill, not only Catholics but people of many different faiths. As you know, religious opponents to this sort of legislation are sometimes accused of imposing their personal faith on others and on society at large; they are accused of trying to make Church doctrine the law of the land. That is, of course, not true. Believers and non-believers oppose such bills on good solid grounds. But we also have to beware of the hidden assumption in that accusation, namely, that religious belief is an entirely private matter that should have no bearing on law or public policy. That is also manifestly not the case. In a state that pioneered the legal recognition of the God-given right of religious freedom, we have the right and the duty not only to bring the truths and values made clear by faith into the public forum, but also to help shape a society in which God’s gift of life is respected from the moment of conception until natural death. Religion and morality, George Washington said, are the pillars of democracy. Let us not forget that as we go forth this night to march and advocate for life!
The Meaning of Life
In the Gospel we witnessed the encounter of Jesus with the rich young man. This young man asked Jesus a question that goes to the meaning of life itself: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” In many ways that young man stands for people throughout history who ask the ultimate question about the meaning of life. “What is my ultimate aim and how do I attain it?” This is a question that planted deep in the heart of every person. That very question is indicative of the dignity of the human person who is more than a highly developed animal – but rather is made in God’s image and longs for God’s eternal friendship. When society stops recognizing the transcendent meaning and value of human life then all our God-given rights are imperiled.
The young man sought the answer to this ultimate question by obeying God’s law, including its prohibition against the taking of life: thou shalt not kill. Jesus approved the young man’s adherence to the law of God but asked him, and tonight is asking us, to take a further step – namely, to put our trust utterly in the power of his truth, his love, and his mercy. We come here to celebrate Mass in the midst of our March for Life because it is here, in the Eucharist, where Jesus looks at us with love as once he looked upon the young man in the Gospel with love. In that gaze of love we find the wisdom and strength to bear witness to the value, beauty, meaning, and dignity of human life – not only on a night such as this when we are banded together in common cause but indeed in our individual interactions with legislators and public officials as well as our interactions with family members, friends, and colleagues. When aged parents or family members and friends approach the end of life, we should assure them that will never be a burden and welcome the opportunity to care for them and to be with them until the end. Let us bring that same love and compassion into the public sphere opposing this destructive legislation, not as angry political operatives but rather loving witnesses to the Gospel of Life, a Gospel which can help shape a society that is truly compassionate, truly just, a society that surrounds the sick and the dying with love and respect.
Thank you so much for your witness to the sanctity of human life – whether it is the life of the unborn child or the life of a parent who has grown elderly and frail or the life of brother or sister with disabilities or the life of a friend who is facing a terminal illness. In the power of Jesus’ love and compassion may we bear convincing witness to the value of their lives and indeed the value of every human life!
May God bless us and keep us in his love!