A billboard in the 2600 block of South Broadway in Denver reads “Final Exit,” but it’s talking about leaving more than the road. Final Exit Network, a 6-year-old nonprofit, is using the billboard campaign to ask Denverites to ponder “the right to death with dignity.”
The June 3 death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 83, assisted suicide’s most famous advocate, has people talking about the concept of the right to die and of helping another human being to die. Kevorkian died of natural causes.
Final Exit holds that taking one’s life, with support from others, in cases of irreversible illness or unbearable pain, is the human-rights cause of this century.
A different group, Compassion & Choices, will ask state lawmakers next legislative session to require physicians in Colorado — one of 36 states that have criminalized assisted suicide — to inform dying patients of all their legal end-of-life options.
This week in Seattle, the U.S. Catholic bishops will vote on their first document as a body on physician-assisted suicide at their Spring General Assembly.
The church must respond quickly and visibly to a strong resurgence in activity by the assisted-suicide movement, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a June 1 statement.
While acknowledging the need for medical care to lessen the suffering and fear experienced by terminally ill patients, the bishops’ draft statement reaffirms the church’s opposition to physician-assisted suicide.
“We welcome the Catholic bishops’ clear statement that opposition to aid in dying is a matter of religious belief,” said Barbara Coombs Lee , president of Compassion & Choices, the oldest choice-in-dying organization and the largest in the U.S. However, she said, “we find it unacceptable to impose the teachings of one religion on everyone in a pluralistic society.”
Arguing that the Catholic Church shouldn’t inject its religious beliefs into public-policy debates ignores the fact the church has the largest nonprofit health care network in the country, said Richard Doerflinger, the conference’s associate director of Pro-Life Activities.
One in six patients in a hospital is in a Catholic hospital, he said.
DiNardo said the years of relative inactivity following legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon in 1994 have ended, and the movement is renewing efforts. In 2008, voters approved an Oregon-style law in Washington. There have been attempts at similar legislation in several New England and Western states.
The Montana Supreme Court recently decided that assisted suicide is not contrary to public policy in that state.