Msgr Marucci's Weekly Message

FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK -   Divine Mercy Sunday,  April 8, 2018


Between the years of 1993 and 1998, I had the opportunity to go back to school to continue further studies in the field of Medical Moral Theology, which led to obtaining a Doctorate in the study of Bio-Medical ethics, particularly “end-of-life issues.”  The motivation to continue my education, after previously earning a Masters Degree in 1986  (M.Div. Master of Divinity Degree) occurred when I was a patient in a hospital for nearly nine months.  

At one point, the health care team, consisting of an Attending Physician, a few Resident’s, Interns, Medical Students, and Nurses were making their daily rounds.  I was in the throws of a flare-up of MS that ravaged my body, rendering me the status of a ventilator Quadriplegic Person.  The pain level was so intense that medications were used for pain control, and despite the heavy sedation, I was often keenly aware of everything going on around me in the room, although I could not respond physically or verbally. 

I was shocked when I heard the Attending ask one of the Resident’s to present my case to the team.  He presented my case to the Team, which appeared to be pretty extensive at the time. The Attending asked the Resident, “Well, what is the next course of Treatment.”  The Resident laughed and said...In this case, I would recommend an extra bolus of Morphine and put him out of this misery. A few team members chuckled; The Attending was furious because the Resident made that statement in my presence; and most important, I heard the response, but was unable to physically or verbally respond.  I laid there thinking that I had a healthcare team that thought I had a life that was not worth living.  Subsequently, another five months passed; and I was finally well enough to return home, but had a conviction in my heart to be a voice to advocate for persons at the end-of-life.  In 1973, when we opened the door to Roe v. Wade (legalizing the Right for a Mother to kill her child), could we have possibly imagined that only 25 years later we would be back on the courthouse steps asking the Federal Government to legalize the right to permit Physicians to Aide in the killing of their patients. 

The Transformation of the medical profession during the past four to  five decades has raised critical questions for patients and healthcare providers; however, the reality of judicial decision-making, especially since Roe v. Wade, has focused on the rights of patients, the conscience of healthcare providers, and the interests of the state,  Court interests in this regard have traditionally focused on the protection of life, the prevention of suicide, the protection of innocent third  parties and the safeguarding of the medical profession.  The role of the courts is to provide a forum for adjudicating conflicts between the rights of individuals and state interests,  as well as those conflicts arising between parties over respective rights and liabilities.  The patient’s right to consent to or refuse treatment is the background for judicial deliberation.

In the wake of California’s Natural Death Act, passed in 1976, most states have enacted legislation regarding both the living will (Advance Directive) and the durable power of Attorney for healthcare.  In November of 1994, the state of Oregon became the first in the United States to pass legislation legalizing assisted suicide for patients who were terminally ill.  However, Measure 51, as it was called, was prohibited by the federal court which declared it unconstitutional in August of 1995. 

Some cases regarding the right to refuse treatment have been decided on the basis of a state or so-called federal “right to privacy.”  Other courts, disputing the existence of this constitutional right to privacy, have nevertheless ruled on behalf of an individual’s right. To refuse treatment on the basis of a “liberty interest.” In several cases in New York, the state court has ruled in favor of the state’s interest in preserving life and requires “clear and convincing” evidence (such as would be found in a written advance directive_ from the patient before permitting the withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment.  

Although he Supreme Court rejected both arguments it is important to point out that while the Court agreed that there is no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, it did not say that Physician-assisted suicide is unconstitutional.  This is an important conclusion, for it means that the Court has in effect thrown the debate back to the state level.  As a result, six individual states have voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide and recently the NJ State Assembly Judiciary Committee released Assembly Bill A1504—”Aid in Dying for the Terminally ill Act” by a 5-2 majority.  (as did the state of Oregon and six others).

This bill, sponsored by Assemblyman John J. Burzicholli, who represents the 3rd legislative district, will soon be posted for a full vote in the State Assembly.  

An identical companion bill is presently being heard in committee in the State Senate.  (Senate  Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee).

This bill is an Oregon-style doctor-prescribed suicide proposal.  It is another attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the State of New Jersey and has received much support in the legislature.  This action allows it to have great potential to become law if passed, due to the Governor’s office being receptive to sign such legislation.  (Previous attempts have failed to even come to votes in the legislature due to Governor Christie’s vow to veto any such legislature.)  If passed, NJ would be the seventh state to permit people with terminal illnesses to take their own lives.  37 states have passed laws making the practice legal. 

On our Parish Website, within the flyer rack in the church vestibule, and also located in both the Main Office and Parish Hall you can obtain an analysis of the bill that was done by the “Patients Rights Council” which describes the bill and provides good arguments against it based on medical, economic, social and humanitarian grounds.  I believe this is the kind of information that can sway the secular public opinion which has found favor with assisted suicide within our society. 

Unfortunately,  arguments based solely on theological or religious grounds too often fall on deaf ears in this particular situation.  Groups such as patients, physicians, nurses, and mental health professionals, along with persons with disabilities can provide the greatest and most effective testimony against “physician-assisted suicide” legislation.  Several concerns of this bill headed for the legislature are identified below: 

Ÿ  A1504 would give government bureaucrats and profit-driven health insurance programs the opportunity to cut costs by denying payment for more expensive treatments while approving payment for less costly assisted-suicide deaths. 

Ÿ  A1504 would allow family members of health care providers and others to advise, suggest, encourage or exert subtle and not so subtle pressure on vulnerable patients to request doctor-prescribed suicide, setting the stage for elder abuse and pressure on vulnerable patients. 

Ÿ  Nothing in A1504 requires that any of the patient’s requests for an assisted-suicide prescription be made in person. 

Ÿ  Under A1504, someone who would benefit financially from the patient’s death could serve as a witness and claim that the patient is mentally fit and eligible to request assisted suicide. 

Ÿ  A1504 could permit a representative of an assisted-suicide advocacy organization to witness a vulnerable patient’s written request and offers no protections for the patient once the assisted-suicide prescription is filled. 

Ÿ  A1504 gives the illusion of choice.  Yet, it will actually constrict patient choice. 

Ÿ  A1504  would permit assisted-suicide prescriptions for mentally ill or depressed patients. 

Ÿ  A1504  would allow drugs for suicide to be delivered to the patient by a third party. 

Ÿ  A1504 would allow doctors to prescribe the deadly overdose of drugs for patients who could live for many years. 

Ÿ  A1504  would set the stage for a patient’s doctor-prescribed-suicide death based on fear of being a burden to others. 

Ÿ  A1504 would permit a third party to request assisted-suicide for a patient without any oversight to determine the accuracy of the request. 

Ÿ  A1504 would require health care professionals to facilitate doctor-prescribed suicide. 

Letter received from Deacon Jerry Jablonowski dated March 27, 2018.

The Cultural and legislative developments previously mentioned have played an enormous role in creating the shift of attitudes toward care of the dying.  Although these attitudes appeal to human compassion, they raise the following serious moral questions:  Is it morally permissible for a physician to directly by commission or omission, terminate the life of his/her patient?  Ought patients be killed by their physicians in order to be relieved of their sufferings?  What alternatives are available to assist people whose afflictions cannot be cured. 

When physicians set aside the role of healer and assume the role of terminator of life, without destroying the whole structure of medicine and the expectations patients have of their physician.  How can one maintain the physician’s role and at the same time terminate a life?  The taboo against killing is so vital to our society that we abrogate it only at great peril.  When physicians kill, police officers steal, firefighters start fires or soldier attack civilians...the social matrix dissolves. 

For a painless, dignified, peaceful end of our life….Let us pray to the Lord.  

With a loving and grateful heart, 

Msgr. Marucci, VF, Pastor