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The final enemy

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I'm not sure how our society ever got to a place where we actually vote on things like the definition of marriage, who qualifies as a human person, and when life begins or ends. It seems there is no limit to our arrogance. Now we're voting on whether a doctor should be legally permitted to prescribe drugs to deliberately end a person's life.

Oh, I know, the prescription has to be "requested" by an adult patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, one which is likely to end his or her life within six months. At least that is how the proposed law is intended to operate. But just think for a moment about the possibilities that exist if a law like this doesn't end up working the way it is supposed to.

It is true that people suffer terrible illnesses. Often these illnesses are accompanied by pain, loneliness, and fear. But pain, loneliness, and fear can be treated -- even if the underlying illnesses can't.

Life and love, after all, are meant to go together. In the all-natural course of our human existence they usually do. Our lives begin with the most intimate act of human love. We are conceived through a communion of persons. The newborn baby is protected and warmed, cradled and fed, cleaned and comforted by the family. This is what can and should recur at the end of life. Our whole lives are meant to be enveloped by love.

Euphemisms like "euthanasia," "mercy killing," "death with dignity," "the right to die," make it all sound so reasonable. But what exactly is reasonable about self-destruction? How can choosing death be rational, human, or compassionate?

There are several other questions we ought to be asking, too. Here are a few of them.

If it's assisted, how can it be suicide?

What is the risk that undiagnosed depression could end up being terminal?

Given that most health care costs are incurred at the end of life, what pressures could be placed on those who are old or sick to end their lives?

Remember the slippery slope people in previous decades said doesn't exist?

Who benefits financially when someone chooses to die?

How can we trust a health care system in which doctors save some lives and end others?

I wish I could say these questions are new, but they aren't. Sixteen years ago, our now second-year law school student daughter testified at public hearings held at the Massachusetts State House against euthanasia. It was something Nadja, at 10 years old, felt very strongly about. So we took her to Beacon Hill in her Catholic school uniform to read the statement she had written. Looking back, that experience may well have been the beginning of her legal career.

I think our daughter was keenly aware of the issue at the time because we were a four generation household. My mother and grandmother both lived with us. At 98, my grandmother now lives in a nursing home. My mother's heroic efforts to ensure she is getting the best of care, to keep her as engaged as possible in our family life, is beautiful. I hope she knows that as she herself ages, she can expect nothing less from me.

When health deteriorates, love -- not death -- is the answer. Pain can be managed. Fears can be calmed. Serious illness can help us rediscover our priorities, and suffering can lead us to one another and into the heart of Jesus. As Catholics, our faith offers hope beyond the limits of this world. We believe in the power of Christ's Resurrection, a power flows through all that is signified by his cross. We cannot defeat death here, but the Son of God already has. As St. Paul reminds us, "The last enemy to be conquered, is death." (1 Cor. 15:26) Vote NO on Question #2.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

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