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Our task is to help prevent suicide


The following is the transcript of Cardinal SeŠn P. O'Malley's recorded homily, focusing on Question 2 which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. The video has been distributed to all archdiocesan parishes to be shown this Sunday, Oct. 28.

People often find beggars annoying. Some will cross the street to avoid them. A man who was raised during the depression told of how the hobos, the knights of the road, would constantly arrive at their kitchen door asking for a handout. His mom would prepare sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a cup of coffee. They wondered why their back door seemed to attract more beggars than the rest of the neighborhood. One day they discovered that there was a mark on the curb in front of their house that indicated that this family would give something. The little boy asked his mother if he should erase the markings. His mom told him to leave them alone. It was a lesson that the boy never forgot.

Sunday's Gospel is about a beggar named Bartimaeus, which means Tim's son. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar who has placed himself on the side of the road where all the pilgrims will pass on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. Everyone over 12 years of age who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was expected to go to Jerusalem for the feast.

I cannot hear this Gospel without remembering a young man from South America by the name of Segundo who arrived at National Airport in Washington and was referred to the Travelers' Aid Desk. Segundo did not speak English. He knew no one in Washington, he had no money and he was blind. Someone who worked for an airline had gotten him an airplane ticket and a visitor's visa. Travelers' Aid sent him to me at the Centro Catolico Hispano. As politely as I could, I asked "What possessed you to come to Washington without knowing anyone, without a plan, with nothing?" He said: "Padre, in my country there are no seeing eye dogs, no schools for the blind, and not much medical attention. Blind people in my town spend their whole life sitting on the steps of the Church begging from the people going to Mass. I said: "Segundo, welcome to Washington. Welcome to the Spanish Catholic Center."

In Sunday's Gospel, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is there hoping to get a handout from the church goers. The Gospels often describe for us two categories of people; the crowd and the community. The crowd is a collection of individuals who are quite content to put their own personal interest first, and to mind their own business. This group is often portrayed as pushing people away from the Lord, like the crowd in today's Gospel who keep telling the beggar to shut up. The community are those who share Jesus' mission and are calling people to draw near, to be closer to the Lord, to be a part of their family of faith. The community are the ones in the Gospel who say: "Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you." We want to form not a crowd, but a community; a family of faith, a community that cares for the blind beggar, the helpless child, the sick and the dying.

St. Francis loved beggars and became a beggar himself and wanted us, his friars, to be beggars because being a beggar reveals a lot about our human condition, our dependence upon God, and our interdependence among ourselves. At periods of our life, we are completely dependent on others for our basic needs; at the beginning and at the end of life. Somewhere in between, we get to be caregivers.

The Elizabethan poet, John Donne, wrote that no man is an island, that we are diminished by each death because we are part of humanity. The poet bids us: "Inquire not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

We cannot ignore the impending legalization of physician-assisted suicide as if it did not affect us. It would bring spiritual death, a cheapening of human life, and a corrupting of the medical profession. Physician assisted suicide means making the pharmacists, doctors, nurses, family members, friends and society itself, accomplices in a suicide. Our task is to help prevent suicide and provide the very best palliative and hospice care for our terminally ill loved ones. You will hear many emotional arguments in favor of assisted suicide. We all get emotional when we talk about the death of those whom we love the most. Laws must not be born out of emotions. Laws need to reflect the moral law, the common good and the protection of the most vulnerable.

There are many citizens of this state who do not share our faith and for whom the clear biblical teaching is not a convincing argument. To them, we make an appeal to reason: that this is bad legislation because it puts vulnerable people at risk and it promotes suicide.

Some of the perilous flaws of this legislation that need careful reflection even by those persons who favor physician assisted suicide are:

Doctors agree that terminal diagnoses of 6 months or less are often wrong. Many people with a terminal diagnosis live for years.

Patients requesting suicide do not need to be examined by a psychiatrist before receiving a lethal prescription, despite that many of them are suffering from the depression. This prescription is for about 100 capsules of Seconal. Of course, people can't ingest 100 capsules all at once. So they pour the contents into juice or applesauce to consume it. Poisoning is never a dignified way to die, especially with no doctor present.

There is no requirement that the patient notify family members. Compassionate care at the end of life should involve the loving support of family members.

We should be supporting improved hospice and palliative care statewide, not legalized suicide.

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