Life and Dignity of the Human Person
By Miranda Smith
Catholic Social Teaching is a teaching Doctrine created by the Catholic Church on how we should be living our lives to best serve God and our neighbors. It is broken down into 7 major themes and the one I will be focusing on today is the life and dignity of the human person. More information on this theme can be found on the USCCB website which I have linked to below. Basically since we are all created in the image and likeness of God, we all have inherent dignity that deserves to be protected. It is our obligation as fellow human being to be there for those people whose dignity is being threatened.
This is an issue that has been very close to my heart all of my life. I was raised in a loving environment where my dignity as a person was never threatened. It pains my heart to see other people who live their live with a constant threat of being mistreated. It is one of my personal goals to love every person I encounter and see them as the creation of God that they are. But for this to be an effective way to protect the life and dignity of all people, I need to gather people who have the same goal as me. This is why is involve myself is organizations that work to protect and uphold human dignity. For example I am an officer of my college’s prolife club and have attended the March for Life in Washington DC three times. My most recent passion has been focusing on the dignity of human life at the end of life. With the threat of physician assisted suicide I believe it is crucial to educate people on the dignity of the human person, even as their health deteriorates. . I have even found myself at the frontlines of discussions about controversial issues that I believe hinder the dignity of one of my fellow human, and I believe it is important to have these conversations in order to help others see the value that each person has. As it says in 1 John 4:7 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.”
All You Need is Love
By Miranda Smith
Mother Teresa once said that “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. This emphasis on the virtue of love is one that I personally strive to embody. Love is the most important virtue to me and I believe that a “life well lived” is one that is rooted in and defined by love. First it is important to define what love is. Love is often portrayed as only being found in a romantic attraction, but this is far from the truth. Love is being able to put the needs of someone else before your own. It is wanting the wellbeing of another so much that you are willing to put your own desires aside. Love is being able to see God in every person and be willing to sacrifice yourself for them like Jesus did for us.
During life I believe that there are two times that I believe it is more crucial for love to be the center of every action and decision; the beginning and the end. At the beginning of a person’s life they are innocent and vulnerable to the world around. At the end of a person’s life as their health begins to decline they become less able to make their own decisions and perform daily tasks. That is why love is crucial at these time, not only to uphold their human dignity but also to create an environment of love and support. Hospice care companies focus on the end of life and when combined with palliative care it provides a loving atmosphere for the patient.
The presence of a supportive care company such as Divine Mercy can also help the family to make decisions rooted in love. Often the choice that is easier for a family member may not be what is truly best for the patient. Supportive care companies prepare families for making the choices for their loved ones that will be truly for the benefit of their loved one. Love allows them to put the wellbeing of another before themselves.
I began to see the full value of the virtue of love last year when my mother’s cancer took a turn for the worst. It was during this hard time that I both experienced and understood the full value of love. I am not going to lie, seeing her health deteriorate was very hard, but I knew it was what was best for her. In those last weeks I told my mom I loved her probably one hundred times, but it was the acts of love that I know meant even more to her. My mom had always asked me to sing for her and being a shy child I had always refused. While sitting next to her bed and holding her hand I put my own fear aside and sang all the songs I could think of. The love I was able to show my mom was a difficult sacrifice for me, but it was my way of trying to return the love she had shown me my whole life.
On the opposite side of this I felt to love of all of my friends and family who supported me. Divine Mercy was there for my family during this journey helping us to discern what God’s plan was for my mom and how to make the most loving decisions for her. St. Therese explains why love is the most important virtue to have a life well lived when she says “You know that our Lord does not look at the greatness or difficulty of our action, but at the love with which you do it. What, then, have you to fear?”
…about the Hospice and Palliative Care Industry: Divine Mercy applauds and supports the efforts of all palliative care and hospice agencies in their pursuits to alleviate the suffering of terminally ill patients and their families as they face life-limiting illness. Recent changes to U.S. healthcare laws, along with explosive industry growth, has led to a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation related to hospice agencies and their ethical practices. The Catholic Church has taken a strong leadership position in supporting life from the moment of conception to a natural death. While pursuing its certification to provide medical services to people of any faith, Divine Mercy has taken the position of partnering with local hospice agencies who are willing to provide medical services consistent with the Catholic Standards of Care™. While the care of terminally ill patients is often complex and unique to individual circumstances, the Catholic Standards of Care™ were developed to: 1. assist patients and families in making informed decisions about end of life choices and how they relate to Catholic teaching; 2. be certain the services they receive never violate the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law; 3. provide comfort for people in knowing the care they receive will NEVER violate their religious or ethical beliefs. Whether or not a hospice agency is willing to subscribe the Catholic Standard of Care™ should not lead anyone to conclude that their practices are inconsistent with natural, social or religious law, nor generally accepted ethical practices. Individuals entrusted to care for others are subject to their own moral choices. Divine Mercy’s role in caring for terminally ill individuals is very specific and consistent with the laws of the Catholic Church, but its services remain available for persons of any religious belief. The hospice industry as a whole is filled with beautiful and caring individuals who provide comfort during difficult times. Divine Mercy is privileged to become part of this Apostolate in serving Christ’s children as they prepare to reunite with Our Father in heaven. Faithfully in Christ, Kevin Lundy President & Chief Executive Officer Divine Mercy Supportive Care, Inc.
The Importance of Palliative Care
By Miranda Smith
What is Palliative care? This is something, that even as my family was receiving it, I didn’t fully understand. I assumed that hospice care and palliative care were the same thing, but I have learned that although they are often connected they are not the same. There are official definitions on the Divine Mercy website, but here is how I understand the difference. Hospice care is assisting people as the reach the end of their lives and require more assistance performing any range of daily tasks. Palliative care is easing the pain and suffering of a person, whether that is when they are in hospice care or not. Both have such a great importance in serving those who are in need, but today I am going to focus on palliative care.
I found an article by Harvard Magazine that has stories and reflection on palliative care and the benefits that people have found. The link is below and it explains palliative care better than I ever could.
After reading these stories and reflecting on my own it become abundantly clear how important palliative care is. Disease is scary! And a major part of the fear comes from the possibility or presence of pain, not knowing what will happen and not being able to be yourself and do everything that you used to do. Palliative care is available to take away that fear. With palliative care it is possible for the patient and their loved ones to come to peace with the situation. In hard times sometimes that’s all you can ask for, even just a moment of peace. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28
Physician Assisted Suicide Testimony from Robert Jotte MD PhD
By: Mark Skender
My name is Dr. Robert Jotte and I am a medical oncologist who has been in the practice of medicine for nearly 20 years. I graduated with an MD PhD from Vanderbilt University in 1996, and I currently practice at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. I take care of dying patients and their family members every day. I suspect that I have helped more people through the dying process than most of the individuals who carry the responsibility in deciding the fate of House Bill 1135. Because of the life and death experiences that I live through every day, I would ask that you listen to my voice. I cannot be at the capitol today, for the very reason above that I am caring for these very patients that this house bill targets.
Oncologists face extraordinary challenges from patients with newly diagnosed cancer, as they face the psychological, financial and family relationship challenges that cancer can bring. I currently have three full-time social workers, who provide for the psychosocial needs of patients and family members afflicted by cancer. They are tasked with identifying resources for patients that can provide psychological, educational and financial aid to patients and their family members. Family members are frequently pulled from their own family responsibilities and jobs to provide for the needs of their loved ones afflicted with cancer. Almost all family members gladly accept these responsibilities when their loved ones are diagnosed with cancer. But, I have seen family members who do not want the responsibility of caring for their family members: taking time off from work, driving to doctor’s appointments, sitting in the office for chemotherapy treatments, going to the hospital when they are ill, picking up medications at the pharmacy, going to CAT scan appointments or for blood draws. This list doesn’t even address the needs that may be faced at home: cooking, cleaning, laundry, bathing, paying bills, etc., Cancer patients abandoned by their families are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The elderly and uninsured are those who will face the greatest challenge from a bill that offers a much simpler path of physician prescribed suicide. This bill will not be able to protect the rights of these vulnerable patients and opens the door to coercion by family members. I see this in my office already. It absolutely exists. Doctors cannot force friends and family to accept the responsibility of care that comes with a patient’s cancer diagnosis. So, you must ask yourself, “Do you think it’s possible that, if we legalize doctor-prescribed suicide—patients, particularly the elderly—might feel pressured into choosing assisted suicide to avoid being a burden or a financial liability to loved ones?”
Representative Singer House District 11 responded to a letter written opposing House Bill 1135. I have no doubt that he saw firsthand many of the abuses the elderly face when he worked with Boulder County’s department of Child and Family services. He quotes the bill stating that a physician must determine that an individual is suffering from a terminal illness defined as an illness that likely leads to death within six months. But what the bill fails to do is define whether that illness is even treated or not. There is nowhere in this bill where the attending physician is required to inform the patient of treated versus untreated disease. I give you a common everyday example. Untreated metastatic colon cancer has an average life expectancy of six months. But with treatment, patients live an average of almost three years! By House Bill 1135 definitions of an “attending physician” or a “consulting physician,” such a patient would not even be required to meet with an oncologist. If this bill passes, that newly diagnosed patient can be offered the choice of suicide without an oncologist even discussing the options that treatment can provide. This is reason alone to kill this bill.
The American Medical Association holds that “physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” The AMA, along with the American Nurses Association, American Psychiatric Association and dozens of other medical groups, urged the Supreme Court in 1997 to uphold laws against assisted suicide, arguing that the power to assist in taking patients’ lives is a “power that most health care professionals do not want and could not control.” So I must ask you, “Why is this bill necessary? Why does this legislature ask that a physician be pulled into the decision of a patient to commit suicide? ” Patients already have the right to make the decision to end their life. They do not need a physician’s approval or prescription. So you should ask yourself, “Is this law necessary when patients already have this choice, or is this simply a law to safeguard physicians?”
The final point I would like to make revolves around how cost enters into the issue of House Bill 1135. Physicians currently face an onslaught of burdensome authorization from insurance providers. We are routinely required to obtain authorization for treatments, radiology scans and even medications through a time-consuming process known as peer-to-peer review. In this process, we are required to speak by phone with physicians working for the insurance company and describe the individual case of the patient. These physicians then decide whether or not they will cover and pay for these requested standards of care. You once again must ask yourself a question: “Do you trust profit-driven insurance companies to do the right thing or the cheap thing?” Former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger warned in urging the Supreme Court to uphold laws against assisted suicide: “The least costly treatment for any illness is lethal medication.”
The people that are here today all have their hearts in the right place: we all want to provide compassionate care to patients. We all must question whether House Bill 1135 runs the risk of limiting that very compassion to our society’s most vulnerable members. I can assure you as a physician who cares for these patients’ day in and day out, this bill threatens our society’s most vulnerable members. If for no other reason than patient compassion alone, I urge you to oppose this bill.
For any representatives that may continue to struggle with this issue, I urge you to contact me directly before you make your final decision.
Robert M. Jotte MD PhD
Deacon Alan Rastrelli M.D. on Defeating Colorado House Bill 1135
By: Mark Skender
Thank you for allowing me to bring my concerns regarding the physician assisted suicide bill 1135 before this honorable committee. My name is Dr Alan Rastrelli, and I have been a physician for nearly 36yrs, working the past 13 years in the critical but rewarding field of Hospice and Palliative medicine. Under this law, a patient will ingest a prescribed overdose of a medication with the intention of causing his or her own death. This, by definition, is suicide-- the same act we are desperately trying to prevent for those who have such a feeling of hopelessness, such a fear of death, such a fear of living, that they want to end their life by their own hand. This term is strategically missing from the language of Bill 1135. Allow me to review the rhetoric by those in favor that is misleading the public with false premises: The former Hemlock society changed its name to Compassion and Choices in order to soften their decades-long promotion of assisted suicide and euthanasia and this large organization is spending millions to get these laws into many states. Compassion: To borrow from the Textbook of Palliative Medicine: To end the life of a person through physician-assisted suicide cannot be an act of true compassion, because such an act would eliminate the very object of compassion: the person! Instead, as providers, true compassion is to use our skills to palliate the person’s sufferings- not only their physical pains, but also the emotional, spiritual and psychosocial pains that inevitably accompany patients nearing the natural end of their lives. And we should do this in a way that truly respects each person’s life and dignity through what I call ‘intensive caring’. This law is championed with the cry for the Right to Die. This is a non sequitur, because I do not believe anyone in the past, present or future has or ever will be denied death. Thus the government does not need to provide a new right that has never been infringed upon to begin with. CHOICE AND FREEDOM: Everyone already has the freedom to choose to end their life, and the means to do it quickly and comfortably, without the need of a physician prescribing their death. There are numerous “recipes” provided by Compassion and choices on how to do this. The methodology is already in hand. There is no medical expertise needed to ingest an overdose of medication that will end your life—Unfortunately, it happens intentionally and accidentally all too often. Physician assisted death, or Physician aid in dying is another attempt to couch the undeniable act of suicide that occurs when a patient takes a deadly dose of a medication. In fact, however, these phrases describe what physicians are asked to do when a patient is imminently facing the end of their life. The healing profession is indeed expected and entrusted with the sacred privilege of assisting their patients through their death, through the dying process. Patients and families can CHOOSE to forego life sustaining measures that may only burden them for no benefit; they can decline receiving interventions that prolong the dying process in order to allow a natural death in the comfort of their home, surrounded by loving family and friends, assisted by devoted health care providers. Physicians and nurses are to help the patients as their life is ending, NOT end their life by an unethical act. From my perspective, this is not a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian issue, nor a religious issue—it is a societal and an ethical issue. The dangers of euthanasia and assisted suicide to society…to the trust in the profession of medicine as healers… was addressed in 400BC by the Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates when he exhorted physicians who had succumbed to unethical practices, to take this oath: “The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients according to my ability and judgment, and not for their hurt or for any wrong. I will give no deadly drug to any, though it be asked of me, nor will I counsel such…” Today, we need to rededicate ourselves to these principles, and please vote against this bill.
Alan Rastrelli Testimony PAS Bill 1135 (2-7-2015)
303 South Broadway, Suite #220
Denver, CO 80209
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