Physician speaks on Oregon experience of assisted suicide

Dr. Kenneth Stevens of Oregon, vice president of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation, speaks at the archdiocese's Pastoral Center Sept. 7. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo

BRAINTREE -- Twelve years ago, a patient visited Dr. Kenneth Stevens after being diagnosed with a form of cancer that would kill her in six months without treatment, seeking drugs to end her life. Over a course of the next few weeks Dr. Stevens spoke to her about other options.

"If my doctor had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead. I thank him and all my doctors for helping me to choose 'life with dignity.' Assisted suicide should not be legal. I hope Massachusetts does not make this terrible mistake," she wrote in a 2011 letter to the Boston Globe.

At his presentation "The Reality of Physician Assisted Suicide in Oregon and what it means to Massachusetts" at the Pastoral Center Sept. 7, Dr. Stevens, vice president of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation (PCCEF), told this story to emphasize his point that the law proposed under a November ballot question in Massachusetts damages relationships between doctors and patients, detracts from the advance of medical science, and advances under a plethora of poorly defined terms coupled with misleading messages.

As an oncologist with 46 years of experience, who practices and teaches at Oregon Health and Science University in Oregon, Dr. Stevens built his case from the point of view of a board certified physician licensed in radiology who has treated many patients throughout the years facing grim diagnoses.

In his talk, he spoke on the importance of clear definitions as the discourse on the proposed law unfolds in Massachusetts.

"The legalization of physician assisted suicide does not give any new rights to the patient. They say, 'I want a right to die.' Well, you are going to die. You already have that right. Its purpose is to legally protect doctors who write prescriptions for lethal drugs," he said.

He said clearly defining the issue should remain at the center of the effort to fight physician assisted suicide.

"It is important to use proper language. It is physician-assisted suicide. That's what it is," he said.

He said attempts to legitimize or legalize physician assisted suicide are based in the language of driving an agenda not promoting the development of healthcare or patient needs.

"The legalization of assisted suicide in Oregon was not the result of a scientific medical advance," he said.

Instead, he said, it was passed as a result of a campaign led by what was once called the Hemlock Society, which has taken up the name Compassion and Choices after merging with other organizations in recent years.

"They are leading the campaign here. They use euphemisms to distort the truth. They use double-speak," he said.

He said traditional groups in the field of medicine make clear distinctions regarding the issue of physician assisted suicide.

"The American Medical Association code of ethics also says that 'allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer,'" he said, quoting the AMA's Code of Medical Ethics.

He said physician assisted suicide laws in Oregon have breached the trust between doctors and patients when other factors become involved.

"Assisted suicide has turned medicine upside down. There can be no safe haven, no safe harbor for a patient when the doctor may kill them. We don't care for patients by killing them," he said.

After forming in Oregon approved physician assisted suicide in 1994, PCCEF took on the task of affirming the value of human life under the understanding that physicians work to heal illness, alleviate suffering, and provide comfort for the sick and dying. Their website says members work to uphold time-honored values of the medical profession, including the value of human life and care for patients.

Dr. Stevens said that beyond uprooting the traditional values regarding life, the laws can degrade care for patients.

"Assisted suicide leads to the dumbing down of medicine," he said.

He said no skill is required to write a prescription for life ending drugs, taking the focus off of the doctor's role in determining a solution to sometimes simple medical issues.

In his role as an educator he also must anticipate the needs of students.

"As we interview prospective students we don't usually ask, 'Do you want to go into medicine to kill people?' That's not what we ask," he said.

He said implementation of these laws can create a niche for physicians who make lethal treatments a kind of specialty.

"There was a report from a state agency where from 2001 to 2007, 109 doctors --which is about 1 percent of Oregon doctors-- wrote 271 fatal prescriptions. Of those 271 fatal prescriptions, about a fourth of them where written by only three doctors," he said.

He also addressed the inherent danger of laws supporting physician assisted suicide wherein the expense of treatment becomes a factor in determining which care should be available to which patients. He pointed out that the elderly, infirm and disabled come under threat in this way.

"For 2,500 years physicians have withstood the allure of promoting death. We have cared for the weak and the outcast when others have turned away," Dr. Stevens said.

He presented the case of a woman denied experimental chemotherapy treatment under her health plan, but approved for assisted suicide.

Dr. Stevens told The Pilot after his talk that the case in favor of physician assisted suicide downplays clear definitions, eschews medical science, and damages doctor patient relationships in pursuit of an ideology.

"It is an ideology that a patient should be able to take their own life with a doctor's assistance," he said.

"The legalization of assisted suicide is anti-science. It is against medical care. It's against scientific medicine," Dr. Stevens said.

Father Shawn Carey, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Deaf Apostolate, said Dr. Stevens point that assisted suicide laws could endanger people with disabilities struck him.

"Often people with disabilities do feel oppressed by the majority, people who tell them that you can't, people who tell them that your life is worthless. Coming here to hear this presentation has helped me gather more facts so that when I do teach, and when I do preach, that I can successfully minister to the community and tell them that we need to rally together," he said.

"We all have to be educated. We all have to make sure we understand the full import of what is happening," said Bishop John A. Dooher, who also attended the talk.

"We all have to begin to educate ourselves about not just the simple issues, but all the issues around it," he said.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...