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Bishop Silva 'proud' of Catholics who rallied against assisted suicide

April 7, 2017

By Catholic News Service
as seen in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, April 7, 2017

Bishop Larry Silva told that Hawaii Catholic Herald that he was “very proud of the large number of our parishioners who signed petitions and contacted their legislators” in opposition to the physician-assisted suicide bill which the Health Committee of the Hawaii House of Representatives March 23 unanimously voted to defer.

The move by the seven-member committee essentially means no further action will be taken on the measure this session.

“I thank God that the House Health Committee has decided to table the bill allowing physician assisted suicide,” the bishop said. “I am grateful that they have realized that what is seen by many as a good thing would be quite harmful to our community, especially to the vulnerable and the elderly.”

“I pray that the bill will stay off the table for the rest of the legislative session,” Bishop Silva said.

Saying he was pleased by the participation of Catholics in the debate over the measure, he added, “It is such involvement by grass roots people that can make all the difference.”

More than 13,000 signatures of persons opposing the bill were collected in Hawaii parishes.

On March 7, the Hawaii Senate passed the measure, called the “Medical Aid in Dying” bill, or SB 1129, with 22 votes in favor, three against. Two of the affirmative votes were cast “with reservations.”

During their consideration of the bill, House Health Committee members, led by Rep. Della Au Bellati, the chairwoman, said they were concerned about a lack of specifics, enough safeguards to protect vulnerable people, and what training physicians would receive about prescribing lethal drugs to terminal patients who would request them.

The proposed bill, based on a law in Oregon, would have allowed an adult Hawaii resident diagnosed with a terminal illness and determined to have six or fewer months to live, to request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to be self-administered to end his or her life.

The Catholic Church in Hawaii actively opposed the bill.

In testimony Feb. 24, the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in Hawaii, stated that legal assisted suicide “can undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever alter the doctor-patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life.”

The Catholic conference pointed out the incongruity of the state promoting and facilitating suicide for one group of persons, calling it “dignified and humane,” while “recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances.”

The conference organized a statewide petition against the measure that collected thousands of signatures.

Bishop Silva, in a letter to Catholics in the statewide diocese, called the effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “another manifestation … of the ‘culture of death.’”

The bishop countered the argument that terminal illness “diminishes” a person’s dignity or “true humanity.”

“It costs a tremendous amount of time and money to care for someone who is very sick,” he said. “Yet true compassion means ‘suffering with’ someone — or allowing others to suffer with us — and while it is very humbling, the most intimate bonds of human caring can be nurtured in just such circumstances.”

Bishop Silva expressed concern that legalizing assisted suicide would open the door to a “culture of euthanasia” and abuse of the elderly.

“Mass legalization of assisted suicide is not inevitable,” said bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, writing March 24 in National Review. “Now, after losing recently in New Mexico, add Hawaii to the ‘not inevitable’ list.”

He was referring to an assisted suicide measure defeated March 15 in a 22-20 vote by the New Mexico Senate. The bill had easily passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee March 3.

A Seattle-based nonprofit human rights organization called “Choice” Is an Illusion, which opposes assisted suicide, said the now-deferred bill was “sold as providing a voluntary patient choice,” but did not “even have a requirement of voluntariness, capability or consent when the lethal dose is administered.

“The claim that self-administration is required is not true,” the group said. “The act says that a patient ‘may’ self-administer the lethal dose. There is no language that administration ‘must’ be by self-administration.

“Administration of the lethal dose is allowed to occur in private without a doctor or witness present,” it added. “If the patient objected or even struggled, who would know?”

“Although this may seem like the battle is over, we must stay vigilant!” Eva Andrade said in a statement posted on the website of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.

In testimony in February, Andrade said that assisted suicide invites exploitation of vulnerable people.

“It puts the poor, elderly, sick and disabled at risk for abuse,” she said, “no matter what the proposed safeguards. With elder abuse already a major problem in Hawaii, turning the right to die into a duty to die — creating subtle pressure on the elderly to end their lives early so as not to be a burden to their families — may very well be a consequence of this law.”