To the Editor: Pam Youngquist’s March 18 letter to the editor reveals a truth I didn’t know: Two doctors have taken their case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court for the right to physician-assisted dying.
Why? A lawyer, suffering from prostate cancer, claims “the right to commit suicide” to alleviate possible suffering at the end of his life.
I feel sorry for this doctor and have compassion for all who are suffering, especially those near death. The suffering is real and everyone wants to relieve the pain of those who are tormented. It’s sad. Living in a pluralistic society, we have different opinions about right or wrong and the best outcomes regarding end-of-life suffering. Based on our different perspectives, it’s no wonder that dying with dignity means different things, leading, as one author put it, to an “inevitable clash of belief systems.”
What is the ultimate good in considering our own future suffering and death?
While advances in medicine provide the means for the dying to die with less suffering and “more dignity”, the means is physician-assisted suicide. So how did suicide become a path to dignity? Aren’t “suicide” and “death with dignity” mutually exclusive terms? According to my belief system, suicide is, to paraphrase theologian Michael Pakaluk, a mortal sin that cuts off the grace of God and kills the supernatural life of the soul. This means higher stakes than just the physical outcome: a spiritual outcome that should be carefully considered by anyone adopting or advocating for end-of-life options law. There are worse things than suffering and death.
Facing death is a time of trial. What will be our legacy? Theologian Ronald Rolheiser says death should be our last gift to those we leave behind. I am okay. Rather than annihilate myself, I will choose to recognize my total dependence on God, to be grateful for the life He has given me, to accept my own suffering and my own death as Jesus did, to to trust in the love of God, to stay close to Him to the end, and reverence and protect my immortal soul from grave sin – preserving not a false version of the dignity but the true holiness that God has given me endowed when he knitted me in my mother’s womb.
Stephen Garrity, Pittsfield