By Cole DeSantis, Rhode Island Catholic Correspondent
PROVIDENCE — On Saturday, Feb. 19, life advocates hosted an online symposium to discuss techniques to counter the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act. Such a bill has been before the Rhode Island Legislature for 20 years and would allow access to physician-assisted suicide for Rhode Island residents.
The “Defeating Assisted Suicide: Rhode Island Coalition Training Day” symposium, organized by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Assisted Suicide and the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, was moderated by Dr. Joe Butera, Professor of Philosophy at Providence College, and Barth Bracy, managing director of Rhode Island Right to Life, and was moderated by Lisa Church, professor of finance at Rhode Island College.
Proposed legislation says doctors ‘shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action’ if they prescribe life-ending drugs to a terminally ill patient if the patient is over 18 , requests such lethal substances voluntarily, is able to make an informed decision and self-administers the substance. Such a law contradicts the position of the Catholic Church against euthanasia and suicide, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph #2276-2283.
The keynote speaker, disability rights activist John Kelly, spoke about the underlying hypocrisy of the pro-assisted suicide movement, stating that many of the arguments in favor of assisted suicide – the right to autonomy personal and “death with dignity” – were in fact ways of diverting attention from a distinct set of priorities, including fear of suffering on the part of social elites and prejudice against the disabled.
“I would say this is a social justice issue that crosses party lines,” Kelly said during closing comments, and that this bill and other similar bills represent a “path to a very dark place “where a number of privileged people” make arguments about who deserves to live.
Kelly and Barbara Lyons of the Patient’s Rights Action Fund presented statistics that highlight other issues with physician-assisted suicide, including the fact that many ethnic minorities and the poor overwhelmingly oppose suicide assisted by a doctor and expressed concern that the proposed legislation could lead to abuse and the perpetuation of oppression against these groups. Lyons and Denise Burke of the Alliance Defending Freedom, discussed the legal issues inherent in the bill, particularly that it does little to prevent the coercion of terminally ill patients by doctors and others.
The symposium also featured Dr. Paul Gondreau, professor of theology at Providence College, and his wife Christiana. Dr. Gondreau shared the theoretical framework for defending human dignity, explaining that “it really needs to be emphasized that the pure and simple foundation of human dignity or the value of human life is simply the fact of ‘To be human. It’s not about acting human or looking human, just being human, period.
Ms. Gondreau followed with a personal reflection on their family’s experiences of raising a child with special needs. She explained that being disabled or suffering from a debilitating illness or injury does not in itself preclude being able to enjoy life or live meaningfully, using her son as an example.
“If someone outside looked at him and didn’t know him [they would say], ‘Oh, he can’t talk.’ Yes he can. “He doesn’t understand what we’re saying. Yes, it does. “He has no hopes and dreams.” Yes, it does. She also went on to note that caring for a disabled child, like caring for a terminally ill patient, instills a sense of compassion and selflessness in caregivers. Ms. Gondreau pointed out that this is something the world desperately needs.
Other panelists also discussed practical ways to oppose this bill. Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (District 15), Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson (District 21) and Senator Leonidas Raptakis (District 33) suggested the following: write letters to the editor, contact local elected officials and testify before the legislature. Testimonials or letters to the editor should be specific, focus on certain key elements of the issue, and all referenced data should be properly cited. Opponents should avoid a partisan approach that leans too heavily on specific religious or ideological arguments against physician-assisted suicide. Personal testimonials that appeal to the widest possible audience would have the greatest impact. They noted that the average citizen should not be afraid to speak in front of the legislature, as those who sit in the halls of Congress want to hear directly from their constituents.
If you would like to get more involved in the fight against physician-assisted suicide, you can visit the Patients’ Rights Action Fund website at patientsrightsaction.org. You can also visit the Rhode Island Right to Life website at irtl.org/action/index.php.