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Recognizing authentic compassion

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Massachusetts has never intentionally promoted suicide; so why start now? For those who aren't familiar with it, physician assisted suicide (PAS) is providing a lethal drug to an individual with a disease that may result in death within six months with the sole purpose of ending his or her life. On Election Day this November, the people of Massachusetts will be given the option to check "no" on the ballot against the so-called "Death with Dignity" Act. Proponents of this law seek to lure people into thinking that it represents an act of compassion and aid in dying, but those who know true love and compassion know that "Love is patient, love is kind... it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things." (1 Cor 13:4-7, 13)

People tend to avoid the topic of death. Death is scary, I'll admit. It means suffering and loss of loved ones. For some who are sick and are within their last months of life, it means fear. Some feel themselves a burden and experience loneliness. This law offers them nothing more than the possibility of a self-inflicted death that makes them feel even more alone. It is a further threat to their human dignity. We should protect life and cherish it, even if it isn't our own. That is true love; for compassion means "to suffer with," not to kill.

As a society we seem obsessed with individual autonomy. Life on earth is always terminal. It is full of "peaks and valleys" and unfortunately, the valleys or the low points of life are hard to bear and often not subject to our control. The proposed law offers few safeguards to those who request suicide. It requires very little assessment of whether patients are acting freely or are influenced by others. There is no follow up to check on whether the patient took the life-ending drug or not, no time limit within which it must be taken, and no guarantee that the person took it voluntarily. This is where the line between assisted suicide and homicide becomes blurred. Ones who wish death upon themselves are vulnerable. We should show them the light of God's love, rather than blinding them with false notions of compassion.

Assisted suicide is a false "choice" because it is a choice that ends all choices for the patient. While there may not be a cure for the terminal illness, God always has a plan for each one of us. There is always another way; a better way in fact. A goal of our society should be to show true compassion towards one another, sick or not, at the end of life and through the entirety of life. For the Gospel of John (13: 34-35) says, "Love one another as I have loved you..." and tells us to "remain in God's love." What we each can do is to pray for those who are struggling and who are sick and also for their families, loved ones and caregivers. Prayer is truly a powerful thing that we should utilize especially during times of need.

True love is never selfish. We should seek ways to comfort people who are sick rather than ways to eliminate them in order to eliminate their suffering. "I don't believe words need to be offered," Deacon Jim Greer of the Health Care Chaplaincy ministry says. "We often call it the 'ministry of presence'; just being there is comforting them and showing them that they are cared about. That is compassion." Keep in mind, life is a precious gift no matter what and it is meant to be preserved from the moment of conception until natural death.

Kathleen Grey is a graduating senior at Ursuline Academy in Dedham. As part of her senior service project, she interned in the Archdiocese's Catholic Media Secretariat. She plans to attend Emmanuel College in the fall.

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