Program #0224 for Friday, January 27, 2012: Physician-assisted suicide

January 27, 2012

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Wayne Cockfield

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Today’s topics: Physician-assisted suicide

Summary of today’s show: Proponents of physician-assisted suicide are pushing a ballot initiative in Massachusetts this November and Wayne Cockfield, a disabled Vietnam veteran and vice-president of National Right to Life, sits down with Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell to talk about this dangerous expansion of the culture of death. Wayne tells Scot and Fr. Mark that such a law would strip constitutional protections from another class of citizens—the disabled, elderly, and sick—and create pressures on them to seek death for the convenience of others.

1st segment: Scot and Fr. Mark caught up on their past week. Fr. Mark was in Baltimore this week working on behalf of the Canon Law Society of America. It was the board of governors meeting held at the Baltimore airport so it wasn’t very glamorous, but he did get to gloat a little at the Patriots beating the Baltimore Ravens.

Scot said this November, Massachusetts will get to vote on a proposed law that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. We’re beginning our coverage of this issue with Wayne Cockfield, vice-president on medical ethics for the National Right to Life and their representative at the United Nations. He speaking to the Mass. Citizens for Life assembly this Sunday at Fanueil Hall.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Wayne to the show. He is a Vietnam veteran and former US Marine. Wayne said he was born and raised in South Carolina and a 13th generation South Carolinian. He had an ancestor on the first ship at the founding of Charleston. Scot asked him about his experience in Vietnam and how it prepared him to speak up for disabled Americans’ rights and the right to life.

Wayne joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and was sent to Vietnam. He was eventually promoted to Sargent at 20 years old. during a river patrol on rubber rafts, they were ambushed and an explosive threw him 20 to 30 feet in the air. He was riddled with shrapnel. A helicopter had just enough room to get into a clearing nearby with the rotors actually hitting leaves. He was literally in the field hospital within 10-15 minutes after being wounded and that is what saved him. He stayed conscious the whole time and he still believes that if he lost consciousness he’d have died.

He spent more than 2 years in the hospital and had 27 surgeries. He is now an amputee and in a wheelchair. He suffered massive pain that went on for days and weeks and months. When people talk about pain in relation to assisted suicide, he understands pain at least as well as anyone in this country and he knows suicide is not appropriate pain treatment.

When he got home, it took 4 to 5 years to have the stamina even to do normal daily tasks. This was about the time of the abortion wars in the early 70s. He’d left behind the culture of death in war to America which was steeped in a new culture of death. He decided right then to join t he battle on the part of life.

Wayne started in the pro-life movement at the local level in Columbia, South Carolina and quickly became a spokesman against abortion. He would say that if they continued to kill unborn children, it would lead to one day killing our grandmothers. Devaluing some life leads to devaluing all life. Once society gets used to killing—and as a combat Marine he knows you get used to killing—we would have euthanasia. We’re already at the bottom of the slippery slope, killing disabled babies, grandmas, the terminally ill.

Scot said doctor-prescribed suicide will be a ballot initiative in all likelihood in Massachusetts. He asked how is it different from some of the other life issues and how is it the same? Wayne said doctor-prescribed suicide is a form of euthanasia. He said euthanasia is not for dying people. It’s for those who will not die, the “biologically tenacious”. We’re not talking about whether or not to kill—that decision was made in 1973 with the Roe V. Wade decision that took constitutional protections away from a class of citizens, unborn babies—now some are pushing to take those rights away from another class of citizens. Why do they want to do this? Because of the cost to keep you alive and some calculation about the quality of life.

Scot said doctors should be involved in healing people, not killing people. Wayne said there are good doctors and not-so-good doctors and they are pushing the death ethic in this country. There are pro-life doctors who do not want to be pressured to be involved in euthanasia. Wayne talked about doctors who tell him how they feel pressure from other doctors not to give life-saving treatment to chronically ill patients. Wayne said his mother died last year and said before that, a hospice worker asked if he wanted to remove his mother’s medicine to hasten her death.

Fr. Mark asked a question and Scot replied that the reason we’re talking about removing medication is because advocates of assisted suicide are saying that since it’s already happening surreptitiously then we should legalize it.

Wayne said there’s a presumption for death in this country. What is a good quality of life? It’s a subjective term. It could mean anything. If a person is unconscious, they can’t say they would want to live in a wheelchair, for instance. And perhaps they wouldn’t even know in the midst of the pain that later on they would have wanted to go on. By saying that someone who is in a wheelchair or is blind or the like, then they don’t have a good quality of life, and thus devalue the lives of millions of disabled and elderly.

Wayne cited a study in Oregon where assisted suicide is legal, that 26% of those who died under the law was clinically depressed, but they were never treated for the depression. Scot said in Massachusetts, if this becomes legal, there will be incredible pressure on people to choose suicide in order to be “loving” to those who take care of them or watch them suffer. He cited Pope John Paul II who said that suffering is not good in itself, but it is good in that it unleashes love in those around you. You become Christ in distressing disguise.

Fr. Mark asked if we’re talking about a right for the person to ask a doctor for this or a right of a family member. Scot said the ballot question says a person can ask with two witnesses—not necessarily someone who knows them, but who can say that they have the mental capacity to ask. But this could be anyone.

Wayne said this law could pass as voluntary suicide, but the first court case will expand to include non-voluntary, incompetent person as chosen by a surrogate. This has happened elsewhere. The precedent would be that it would be required under the equal protection clause. Scot summarized Wayne’s point as saying that mentally incompetent patients would have a legal guardian appointed who make the decision for them to have a suicide pill. Scot said to Fr. Mark that the bill has no provision to require any kind of witness to ensure that the pill is not forced down someone’s throat.

Wayne said physician-assisted suicide is not suicide, it is killing and the doctor would be guilty of murder if not in this world, then in the next. This is not a free choice for someone. No one would say a 20-year-old woman who broke up with her boyfriend could go to a doctor for a suicide pill. So it’s not about freedom. There’s only a small group of people that this “freedom” is offered to: the disabled. Wayne cited a court case about a 20-year-old disabled woman who asked for food and water to be withdrawn from her so she would die after her husband left her and she won. She won only because she was disabled. This shows a prejudice and bias against the disabled.

Scot said research shows that people who get diagnosed with a terminal illness very commonly get depressed. And those depressed people will get lots of pressure. It’s in the insurance companies’ best interest for people not to linger until death. Wayne said the most cost-effective outcome of terminal illness is early death. In Oregon, the suicide cocktail costs $40 to the taxpayer. Scot said it’s often unclear where the assisted suicide proponents are getting their funding.

Scot said one of the strongest arguments of the proponents is that it’s about the control and autonomy of the ill at the end of life, but the reality is that control and autonomy are taken away by the pressure to choose to die “on their own terms”. It’s not just a religious issue.

Wayne said the right to die, becomes the duty to die. The people who are the targets of doctor-prescribed suicide will expand. The future will be a nightmare if we keep going down this road in this nation. We keep restricting who is eligible for our freedoms in this country.

Scot said the more suicide becomes acceptable, what happens is that, as it has in Oregon, suicide of all kinds go up. In that state, suicide is the number two form of death among young people. Suicide becomes more acceptable in society because we’re saying it’s okay to think that way.

Fr. Mark said he wants to talk about the restriction of extreme measures and the Church’s teaching on that. It’s not that we never allow someone to die. Prescribing a pill to someone to take is different.

Wayne said doctor-assisted suicide is for those who are not dying or not dying right now. He said the people who are the targets of doctor-assisted suicide, the disabled and sick, are not the ones pushing for this. So who is pushing for this?

Scot said the proponents of the bill were able to get enough signatures to put it before the Legislature. If they do not act on it, then with some more signatures, it will be put on the ballot in November. The exact language that will be on the ballot has not yet been decided, but we will be asking people to vote No on the ballot question.

Fr. Mark asked how Massachusetts is perceived on this issue. Wayne said this is just the latest battleground, but they’re fighting this all over the United States. He’s had legislators ask him whether we should be compassionate to people. Compassion means “to suffer with.” Medical abandonment is not compassion.

Wayne is speaking at the Assembly For Life, on Sunday 2-4pm at Fanueil Hall.

As a final thought, Wayne said we have a choice in this society. We can have a society that values life or a predatory society where innocent are put to death.

3rd segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.

Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
“A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’
And the LORD said to me, ‘This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.’”

  • Gospel for Sunday, January 29, 2012, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1:21-28)

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are?the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Scot said it’s not the easiest readings for priests and deacons to preach on, but the main theme is prophets who speak in God’s name. In the first reading, there is discussion of true and false prophets and in the gospel, we hear that Jesus was so different from all the good prophets because he taught as one who has authority. The God who judged the good and false prophets is the one now speaking himself. Fr. Mark noted that there are false prophets today, including those who are saying that assisted suicide is good. We too must drive the false prophets from our midst.

The demon-afflicted man challenge Jesus, what do you have to do with us? But we too can ask what Jesus has to do with us in that how well do we choose to accept his teaching authority. Fr. Mark said you often hear from people who challenge us for speaking up for truth and the Gospel, “What do you have to do with us?” Keep your religion to yourself. But we preach the truth and truth is always relevant.

Scot said we are so anti-authoritarian in our society. But we have total freedom when we acknowledge God’s authority and choose to be obedient to him. Are we willing to obey the teaching authority of the Church?

Scot said Sunday begins Catholic Schools Week. Our Catholic schools do such a wonderful job forming people to be well-formed adults and citizens. He asked to express appreciation to every single principal and teacher we encounter.

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