In letter to parishes, bishop urges ‘NO’ vote on Question 2
SPRINGFIELD – The following is the text of a letter sent by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell to all pastors of parishes in the Springfield Diocese.
The bishop has requested that the letter be read at all Masses this weekend.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It has been said that the voting booth is one of the bulwarks of democracy. It is certainly true that the secret ballot is a safeguard for our liberty as Americans. How sad it is then that so many fail to exercise their right to vote. It should be numbered among our most serious duties as citizens, and I hope that all of you will be voting this coming Tuesday.
There are so many reasons to vote: the choice of President, of Senator, of national and local representatives is up to you. The candidates for whom you vote will make a difference in the months and years to come on issues that affect us all, and in a real sense they should make a difference on the implementation of the two great commandments stressed in today’s Gospel reading: love God first of all and your neighbor as yourself.
I say this since the results of this election will help to decide questions that relate to our understanding of what it means to be “One Nation Under God.” For in every election two questions are implicit: Does God’s law have an important role to play in our life as a nation? Does concern for our neighbor truly enter our political decisions?
Let me cite an example. Here in Massachusetts we are being asked to endorse certain suicides.
Question Two on the ballot raises the issue for every voter.
Shall the Commonwealth authorize physicians to prescribe lethal medication to end life?
“A YES vote would enact the proposed law allowing a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life.
“A NO vote would make no change in existing laws.”
In other words, should the Commonwealth legalize some suicides? While not spelled out on the ballot, the “certain conditions” include:
-- determination by two doctors that the patient has less than six months to live.
-- a voluntary request for lethal drugs by a patient who understands the ramifications.
-- two witnesses to the request one of whom may be a relative, although family members do not have to be made aware of the request.
-- no doctor or any other person necessarily present when the individual personally ingests the lethal prescription.
-- the death certificate to list the cause of death as the underlying disease, and not suicide.
Some will say this is allowing death with dignity. Some will say it’s being merciful. Some are convinced it’s the only solution to a terrible illness. But that reasoning is based on misplaced love.
For there are nuances to accepting this proposal to make suicide legal; perhaps some questions will make that clear.
Are prognoses of life expectancy even by the best of doctors always accurate?
Is there a good chance of clinical depression on the part of an individual who receives a terminal diagnosis?
Shouldn’t a mental health professional be involved with such a person before any decision is made?
Does the patient have sufficient knowledge about alternatives, about pain relief and palliative care?
Is it prudent to have one of the witnesses to the request be someone who can benefit as an heir from the individual’s death?
Should there be conscience protection for the neighborhood pharmacist who may be asked to fill the lethal prescription?
What do you think about the implications of listing a false cause of death?
Are safeguards needed against alternate use of the lethal prescription once it has been obtained by the patient?
If the Commonwealth approves this measure, is that not an endorsement of suicide by the State, for isn’t law itself a great teacher?
Do you want doctors in the dual role of saving lives and prescribing death?
I might sum up by asking this: if it were a loaded pistol instead of a lethal prescription, would the question even be on the ballot?
I’d like you to note that not one of the questions is based on religious belief, but rather on the common good. It’s because of the common good that these questions are being raised by individuals and organizations such as the Massachusetts Medical Society, hospice care professionals, people with handicaps, pharmacists, doctors, other health care professionals and many more, each of whom urge voters to vote NO on Question 2.
I have to agree. To my mind, we, the citizens of Massachusetts, are being asked to make suicide legal without thinking through the ramifications.
So I have to ask: is God’s law anywhere in Question 2? I don’t see it.
All too often in our society the consequences of our actions become apparent too late. All too often there is a leap to judgment without time to reflect. And sometimes there can be a tendency to think of human beings who do not measure up to certain standards as being less worthy of living. It happens at both ends of the spectrum and in-between – from life’s inception in the womb to its end when anyone, particularly an ill senior citizen, is considered no longer useful to society, or has been duped into that self-image.
Far too many in our society have bought into a utilitarian ethic – far too many nowadays judge others (and themselves) not by their intrinsic God-given dignity but on the basis of whether or not they are useful.
I ask you, I urge you, both as citizens and as Catholics, think of today’s Gospel reading as you enter the voting booth on Tuesday. Think of the true meaning of love of God and love of neighbor. Ask yourself: do we really mean it when we proclaim “One Nation Under God”?
You’re in my prayers as I hope I may be in yours,
Most Reverend Timothy A. McDonnell
Bishop of Springfield