October 18, 2018 // Diocese

Youths speak out against assisted suicide

St. Joseph County Right to Life essay winners:

SOUTH BEND — At a prayer dinner in the spring, St. Joseph County Right to Life honored two high school students and two middle school students for their exceptional submissions to the organization’s annual Teen Essay Contest.

The young winners defend the pro-life stance on assisted suicide with passion and intelligence, and witness to the Christian obligation to protect the sacred gift of life, in all its moments. All four express hope that through prayer and the Lord’s mercy, respect for life will come to triumph over the flawed logic of mankind, among all people.

Girls Middle School Division: 

Felicity Nolan, Corpus Christi School, South Bend

In today’s society, a movement has arisen where terminally ill people are fighting for the right to end their own lives. In a world without God, their argument would seem completely valid. But what these people fail to see is that their lives are given to them by God and therefore are not theirs to end. These people turn to despair when ending their own lives, when there is actually so much hope in striving to live. I believe that these people’s views can be changed if we persist in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

People who believe that individuals have the right to end their own lives are blind to the fact that each and every individual’s life belongs to Jesus Christ. We, as humans, do not possess the authority to dictate when we live and when we die because our lives were given to us by God and belong to Him. Scripture states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6: 19-20). Our lives and bodies are a sacred gift from God that possess the Holy Spirit and were intended by God to be treated with the utmost respect. Choosing to end one’s own life is kicking God off of His throne and robbing Him of His authority.

Assisted suicide is a reflection of utmost despair. In reality, there is so much hope in God’s plan for our lives. Jesus leads all of us on paths of suffering which lead to the greatest amount of grace in our lives. Carrying our own crosses helps us to be like Jesus and grow closer to Him. When terminally ill people end their own lives, they are rejecting and spitting on the cross. When terminally ill people choose to bear their heavy load of sickness, many find the greatest salvation and grace when they either die or are cured of the disease.

A few years ago, a local firefighter in South Bend, named Josh Comeau, was diagnosed with a brain tumor that could not be operated on because of its location on his brain. Josh was a husband and father of five children at this time and knew that he could not leave them. Josh aspired to live. Many fundraisers were held to support him and his family through the difficult times. Josh never lost faith in Jesus Christ to heal him of his illness. Josh carried his cross all the way to health. It was obviously not an easy path, but Josh’s tumor stopped growing. Now, several years later, Josh is healthy and is alive to be here for his family.

At around the same time that Josh’s inspiring, hopeful journey was going on, a woman named Brittany Maynard (in Oregon) was suffering from a similar disease as Josh’s. She began sedulously fighting for the right to end her own life, calling the inhumane procedure “death with dignity.” She hopelessly ended her life on Nov. 1, 2014, leaving her husband and the rest of her family and friends. What Brittany failed to see is that nothing is impossible for God, and Josh Comeau is living proof of that. Even when God does lead terminally ill people to death, he does so in a way that is gracious. If a terminally ill person puts all of his/her faith, trust, and hope in the Lord, he/she will pass with true dignity and leave at peace.

Though changing people’s views on this controversial subject will be extremely difficult, I believe that it can be achieved through evangelization and leading others to Christ. When a terminally ill person aspires to live, that desire is driven by hope. This hope can only be found in Jesus Christ. In order for people to see the light of hope, they need to first encounter God to fully comprehend that our lives belong to Him. Leading people to the truth will open their eyes to the fact that our lives are sacred, precious gifts from God that need to be respected. I hope that these actions will succeed in changing people’s hearts and minds on this serious topic.

A life lived in faith is one of hope and joy, even in the face of suffering. Ending one’s own life shuts the door on God’s ability to transform suffering into grace. By leading people to Christ, we can hopefully open their eyes to the fact that our lives belong to Christ and should be respected. I will continue to pray for the people who do not yet see the light of hope, and I will pray that assisted suicide will not triumph over the power of hope.

Boys Middle School Division: 

Zach Kennedy, Corpus Christi School, South Bend

In today’s world, the prevalence of physician-assisted suicide has greatly increased. In accordance with Catholic teachings, all humans have value which can never be taken away, the exact reason why assisted suicide is detrimental to the world. In order to stop this, humans need to provide help to those suffering and comfort them.

Rooted in the Bible, all humans have intrinsic value that can never be taken away. Genesis 1:26-27 states that “God created humankind in his image,” which means that all humans were made in God’s image and are equally valuable. Life is a gift from God, so it is not our decision when our lives should end. Every person has their own conscience and free will unique to them. This uniqueness gives every person value. Because of this, humans should be respected and valued for this uniqueness, no matter their situation. Assisted suicide takes away a person’s value because it implies that their life is no longer worth living; it is saying their unique mind should not be alive.

Assisted suicide harms society overall in many ways. It can target disabled people or elderly people, because some people would say they are suffering and should not be living. Just like how an intoxicated person is not in the correct mindset to make long-term decisions, a mentally ill person should not be given the choice for such a massive decision as assisted suicide. If a doctor makes the decision to take a person’s life, then where is the line drawn? Who then can say when another’s life should end? What if a person who is suffering greatly still enjoys life and wants to live, but a doctor makes the decision for death for said person? This slippery slope tends to target the disabled and elderly. Although they may be in pain, suicide is not a viable option to relieve their pain. We need to be focused on helping those who are depressed and  mentally ill instead of promoting death to them as a viable option.

Comforting and helping terminally ill patients should be prioritized over assisted suicide. Some great organizations working to reduce assisted suicide are Hospice Care and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who help to provide comfort and care to terminally ill patients. Hospice Care is an organization who provides care and comfort for terminally ill patients, helping them emotionally and spiritually. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted over 334,000 wishes of children with a terminal condition.

Foundations like these can truly provide comfort and happiness to a terminally ill patient, and we should help these foundations and others like them. Volunteers and

donations for both organizations greatly help their cause and can make a difference in many people’s lives. People need to feel that they are loved and feel like they do have value to be truly changed on the topic of physician-assisted suicide. We, especially as Catholics, need to show people that they are loved. Engaging in loving conversation with those opposed to our ideas as much as possible can change hearts and minds. Expressing our views to others (and listening to their views) can help change people for the better.

Catholic ideals promote the idea that all humans have value, and we should never take that away through physician-assisted suicide. Promoting death will harm society, and we need to help those considering suicide. Tiffany, a Make-A-Wish recipient, said, “I returned home from my wish a different person, with a different perspective and a different appreciation for how important it was for me to truly live the rest of my life, no matter how many years that might be.” People need to truly believe, just like Tiffany, that their lives are worth living no matter what.

Girls High School Division: 

Mary Sgroi, Trinity School at Greenlawn, South Bend

Today, a danger disguised as “compassion” and “dignity” is encroaching on our country, and in some places, is already a reality. Assisted suicide, also known as “medical aid in dying” or “physician-assisted suicide,” has already been legalized in five states: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Washington, D.C., and Colorado. It is also legal under court ruling in Montana.

Assisted suicide supports the opportunity for mentally capable, terminally ill adults, with under six months to live, to request medication to end their life. This movement not only dismisses God’s role as the author of life and death, but also wrongly defines the true value of a person to be based on appearances or abilities. In the words of Dr. Ira Byock, “There is a difference between alleviating suffering and eliminating the sufferer ­— between enabling someone to die gently of their disease and ending that person’s life with a lethal pill or injection.”

A significant danger that accompanies assisted suicide is the broadness of its terms. A supposed safeguard for assisted suicide is that a patient must be terminally ill. However, this “safeguard” does not define which diseases or illnesses constitute a person as being terminally ill.

One definition of terminally ill is that a person’s illness is “incurable or irreversible,” and “without the administration of life-sustaining treatment, will … result in death.” With this definition, many people could be considered terminally ill, such as someone with diabetes or asthma. Another “safeguard” for receiving assisted suicide is that the patient cannot be mentally ill. Unfortunately, in many cases, the doctor who determines this is not trained in mental health. Even for specialists, depression and other mental illnesses are difficult to detect, and with a doctor who does not have a long-term, personal relationship with the patient, there is more room for error. Patients that may be struggling with mental illnesses are vulnerable to the calamity of assisted suicide, and do not receive the care and counseling they truly need. This does not seem like a well-established route to a “death with dignity,” as many assisted suicide organizations claim.

As seen in other countries that have accepted assisted suicide, euthanasia soon follows, which results in a diminished respect for life. In the Netherlands and Belgium, two countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, there are many instances where doctors routinely perform euthanasia on their patients without their consent. Who are we to determine when another human’s life should end? Assisted suicide in our country will only open the door to a greater decrease in our perception of the value of life. This is not the way to respect the freedom of safety of Americans.

The growing organizations that support assisted suicide are especially harmful to the most vulnerable among us, the disabled and elderly. Organizations such as Death with Dignity and Compassion and Choices wish to portray assisted suicide as a “victory” for the terminally ill and a “freedom” for them to be able to choose when and how to die. Sadly, this “freedom” is not accurate. In places where assisted suicide is legal, many elderly and disabled patients feel as if they are a burden to their families and believe that it would be better for everyone if they were not alive. How tragic is it that people are dying believing they are unloved, unwanted and burdensome!

Sadly, in more cases than not, the elderly are covertly coerced by family members to choose assisted suicide. Even insurance companies play a role in this ploy. Some insurance companies will not offer a seriously sick person coverage for lifesaving treatments but will provide coverage for assisted suicide. Experts say that modern pain medication can help with 90-95 percent of pain. It has been shown that patients who request assisted suicide on basis of pain withdraw their request once their pain becomes manageable.

If assisted suicide becomes more widespread, the availability of pain medication may drop, leaving people facing intense pain to seek assisted suicide. Contrary to what organizations like Compassion and Choices claim, the likelihood that ending one’s life is entirely decided freely and without subtle encouragement is slim. This choice should definitely not be considered “a right of self-determination,” as these organizations wish to claim.

Organizations that support assisted suicide emphasize that the way to end suffering is to end one’s life. They believe that they are offering the terminally ill the “essence of choice, autonomy, [and] human dignity.” Unfortunately, as this movement spreads, the “so called right to die all too easily becomes a duty to die.” What these organizations and others like them fail to understand is that suffering can be a pathway to experience great fullness of life!

In suffering, one can be fully thankful for the health they experienced before. In suffering, one can see the pain and hardships in others, and truly and deeply be able to sympathize and share in their hardships. In suffering, one can inspire courage and endurance. As Christians, we know that God works in mysterious ways. He uses our trials and tribulations to build His Kingdom. We never know what God has in store, but He is alive and working in and through us. For the terminally ill patient, his or her time of illness can open a door for others to show kindness and compassion. Our country does not need “compassion” in the form of lethal pills or injections.

What the sick need is love and support from doctors, counselors, family members and the greater community. The dignity and value of people are not found in their bodily appearances or abilities, but simply in the fact that they are children of God, and are deserving of true love and care. It is not the role of man to decide death, but that of God. As the psalmist in Psalm 31 says, “I trust in you, 0 Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.”

Boys High School Division: 

Tommy Garcia, Homeschool

Are we going to fight for them?

Assisted suicide is a dignified and courageous choice for people who are experiencing a terminal illness or struggling with difficulties in their lives. Providing this option for people is humane and compassionate. It defends freedom and justice in America. It gives the suffering people of this nation a dignified and pain-free death. These are the untrue beliefs of individuals who advocate for assisted suicide. We, the pro-life community, know that there is no courage or dignity in the intentional killing of the human person. There is nothing humane or compassionate in giving people this option, in telling them to give in to defeat, in telling them they have no purpose in this life. Human life is sacred at all moments. Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, questions the issue facing our nation, “Is this the direction we want our society to go? Is life valuable only when it is healthy? Are we the ones who decide when we die? Is life meaningless?” It is our duty as a nation, founded under God, to show afflicted people that yes, they most certainly are wanted and loved and that their lives are priceless. There is a purpose and meaning to the suffering in their lives, even when it seems hopeless. We need to set an example by supporting them and lifting them up in their darkest moments.

Many people who choose assisted suicide are pressured into their decisions because they feel they are burdening their families and loved ones with their struggles. Supporters of assisted suicide also believe this, and they try to convince these people that choosing to end their lives is the best option. They claim to fight for them, when in reality, they are telling them that they have no importance to their family any more. They are convincing these individuals that their lives are worthless and they have no purpose. But people who are facing an incurable illness are not a burden on their family and friends. Their loved ones want to stand by them and help them throughout their struggles. We need to support these individuals and show them they are loved, and their lives have a purpose in this world, even now.

Suffering is a difficult hardship that everyone goes through at some point in their lives, yet do not we all come out the stronger because of it? Does it not give us a chance to grow in strength, character and love? When things get hard and we feel worn, we need to keep hoping and never give up the fight. People sometimes try to convince others that their suffering is meaningless —that there is no purpose to it. They say they can put an end to the pain and the struggle by choosing to end their lives. However, all they are doing is telling them that they are broken beyond repair. This is their only answer. Even when they are in their darkness moments, there is a purpose to their struggles because there is a sanctity of life.

As a society we must realize that people suffering from terminal illnesses need our love and support. Those who support assisted suicide counsel people to end their lives because they do not understand the true value of life. It is not our right or our choice to decide when a person should die. We must continuously advocate for laws to protect life. We, the prolife community, know that every life is priceless. It is our duty as God’s children to, at all costs, support people who feel they have no hope. We must fight for them in their time of need.

We can learn from Christians in the past. In the 14th century when the Black Death broke out across Europe, members of people’s families would be thrown out onto the streets if they caught the disease, to prevent it from spreading. Even when these suffering people were cast out by their own families and loved ones, the Christians would find them and take care of them. Even when no one else wanted them, the Christians would tell these people that there was a purpose to their lives and there was a purpose to their suffering. We, the pro-life community, need to do the same. We need to stand by their side and support them. We need to start a culture of caring and provide an example to all that this is the how we protect and love those in need.

People suffering from terminal illnesses need our care and love. We must not turn our backs on them when they are in their greatest need. Father Mike Schmitz, the director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, urges us to care for them: “We’re going to advocate for them and say that even though they feel worthless and unwanted, and even though they are in the midst of incredible pain, they are wanted, and their lives have meaning. We claim them and we’re going to fight for them.”

When people are in their darkness moments, we are not going to give up on them. We are not going to let them give up on themselves. We are going to stand by them and lift them up because they are loved and important, because their pain and suffering means something. We are going to fight for them.

The winners of the St. Joseph County Right to Life essay contest this spring are, from left, Zach Kennedy, Felicity Nolan, Mary Sgroi and Tommy Garcia. — Provided by St. Joseph County Right to Life

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