Peter Cataldo, chief healthcare ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston, opens a panel on physician assisted suicide at the Pastoral Center in Braintree during the fourth annual Archdiocesan Justice Convocation. Director of ethics for Covenant Health Systems M.C. Sullivan and chief palliative care specialist at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center Dr. Asif Merchant prepare to speak and take questions from the crowd as panelists. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo
She also said measures taken to help patients end their own lives will set back years of work in the medical field directed at changing attitudes and perceptions toward patients.
"What this is doing is undermining decades of work, I have been a nurse for decades, where we try to see the patient holistically, as set into some kind of network, whether it is family in the biological sense or family in the social sense. This bill, the way it is written, turns death into a possibly incredibly isolated event," she said.
"The potential for abuse is huge. The potential for an isolated, horrible death -- and a hastened death -- is huge," she said.
Dr. Merchant stressed the need to provide adequate relief of pain and treatment of symptoms through palliative care at the end of life rather than helping patients end their lives using doctor prescribed medications.
"There have been many studies in many of the medical field review journals which show that palliative care programs consistently improve physical symptoms, they improve psychological management, they improve care-giver wellbeing, and family satisfaction," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley encouraged participants to continue the fight in the homily of the closing Mass, fortifying them by focusing on Jesus who is as attentive and patient as a gardener tending to his plants.
"Jesus is that gardener who has such great patience with us and is always saying, 'One more year I am going to try.' And with his help we are going to produce the fruits of justice and peace that he expects of us, his disciples," the cardinal said.
The cardinal made no effort to skirt life issues in his homily, giving a robust address of Catholic social teaching.
"Suicide is a physical and a moral danger," he said. "The Gospel of Life is the centerpiece of the Church's social teaching."
Convocation participants said the day presented an opportunity to learn more while joining together to advance social justice causes on a parish level.
"It looks different for every single person here, but we are all dedicated to spreading Christ's word and what that looks like in our world," Jen Suehs-Vassel, 30, a pastoral associate at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, said.
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