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Assisted Suicide & the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

This is our diocesan public policy weekend.  This year’s issue reflected below is speaking against a bill introduced in the NYS Legislative recently to allow assisted suicide.  For more on this issue, check out the USCCB “To Live Each Day With Dignity” and the New York State Catholic Conference.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16
February 5, 2017

Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.”  The reason people put salt on their food is to make it taste better.  We are to be like salt by working to help make the world a better place.

Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.”  Many people live in difficult situations.  There are people who don’t have enough, if hardly any, food to eat.  There are people who don’t have clothing or shelter.  For them, life may seem very dark.  We help them see the light of Jesus when we come to their aid.

Certainly helping people in their physical need is important but it is not just about their physical need.  It is about treating them with dignity, about treating them with the respect they deserve created in the image of God.

I feel I need to turn our attention to another group of people who might feel like they are living in darkness, the dying.

The process of dying can be a difficult one that brings difficult decisions.  Our psalm today speaks of fear of an evil report.  In my own life, I think back eight years ago.  My mother had been battling emphysema for almost ten years at that point.  Then came the “evil report” that she had lung cancer.  They immediately tried to treat it but it was found too late.  She died just five weeks after the lung cancer was identified.  She spent the last ten days on a ventilator.

Those were a very difficult five weeks.  Even though the emphysema had been getting worse over the ten years, we still didn’t want her to die.  We wanted her to live.  That made for a very difficult decision to remove the ventilator but it was the right decision.

Our Church views the removal of the ventilator as putting it in God’s hands as our loved one goes through the natural process of dying.

What is not natural is “assisted suicide.”  Our faith calls us to realize that we do not live forever and that we will all face death but it is not for us to dictate the time.  Pulling treatment like a ventilator hands it over to God.  Assisted suicide, generally through a pill, isn’t putting it in God’s hands.  It’s saying we don’t want to live.

Some describe it as death with dignity, meaning we go out on our own terms but I say we must remember the words in the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done.  It is not for us to decide the time.

As to “dignity,” I can’t get this.  To me, supporting assisted suicide is like saying the person is no longer any good to us because they are ill.  Where is the dignity in that?  They are still good.  They are still the person we love.

People talk about wanting to avoid pain.  The desire to avoid pain is natural but pain and suffering is also natural.  Our Church teaching very much supports pain management in what is known as palliative care and hospice.  It’s all about keeping the person comfortable and treating them with dignity.

I don’t know if you heard but a bill was recently introduced in our state legislature to make assisted suicide legal in New York.  We knew this was probably going to happen so this was already selected as our diocesan public policy issue this year.

You will find in the pews a letter which any adult can sign and complete your address information to let our governor and legislature know we do NOT support assisted suicide.  Instead we ask them to promote measures to improve palliative care and hospice, supporting efforts like Laurel House, so the dying can receive compassion and pain management.

I know there are people around who support assisted suicide to avoid pain.  We must help minimize the pain felt by the dying but we can also remember the pain Jesus endured for us in his passion and turn our pain over to him in prayer for the good of others.

I hope you read the insert in last week’s bulletin that talked about the flaws and concerns over this bill.  We need to realize that in places where assisted suicide has become legal, there are statistics that are now beginning to show the general suicide rate increase in those regions.  Life is being devalued.  We need to show we value the people.  This is treating them with dignity.

We must also realize that while the proposed law requires a terminal diagnosis, such diagnoses are not always right.  I have a friend is a religious sister.  About three years ago, when she was around 89 years old, she was told she had four to six months to live.  This month she will celebrate her 92nd birthday and if you visit the center where she lives, she is one of the healthiest looking sisters there.

There is also the fear of people being pressured into choosing assisted suicide.  There was a story a couple of months ago about a woman out west who was fighting with her insurance company to get them to pay for treatment for her illness.  They denied coverage but told her they would pay for medicines for assisted suicide.

Dying is not easy and we must treat the dying with dignity.  We must show them that we still love them and want them to be with us.

So, I hope you will sign the letter.  As you leave today, there are boxes you can put your letter into and we will make sure they get to our governor and legislators.

Life is a gift.  It is a gift to be cherished.

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