The pro-life cause will confront new challenges in the coming decades, with physician-assisted suicide in particular emerging as a growing threat to human life, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston told attendees of the 25th annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life Jan. 20.
The annual conference, organized by Georgetown University students, is typically held the day before or after the annual March for Life in Washington, according to the university. It was first held in 2000 and later named in honor of the late Cardinal John J. O'Connor, who was archbishop of New York, a Georgetown University alumnus and founder of the Sisters for Life. Cardinal O'Connor was known for his pro-life activism on abortion, but also on other life issues, including his opposition to the death penalty and his support for social safety net programs.
Cardinal O'Malley, who also is the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a member of the Council of Cardinal Advisors and a former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in his address to the conference that "the Gospel of life is the centerpiece of the church's social teaching."
"When the value of life is compromised or diminished, all life is at risk," he said.
"The culture of death," he said, "will be overcome by the witness of a community where people are welcomed, forgiven, celebrated and cared for."
The conference marked its 25th event by focusing on what the next 25 years look like for the pro-life cause. Cardinal O'Malley said that "there's no doubt that the next major assaults in the next 25 years are going to come from those pushing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia."
"A society that allows parents to kill their children will eventually allow children to kill their parents," Cardinal O'Malley said. "The situation in Canada is alarming. There are proposals to promote euthanasia for the mentally ill. Once human life is no longer sacred, and the government can continuously move the goalposts, more and more people are in danger."
Cardinal O'Malley said he wasn't making a slippery slope argument, and the practice of physician-assisted suicide in some places in Europe also is cause for alarm.
On abortion, Cardinal O'Malley argued the church must respond to societal ills such as poverty and racism, which he called dehumanizing and factors that drive women to abortion.
Amid post-Roe partisanship on abortion, he added, "we must never tire of clarifying misunderstandings, shedding light where there is myth and confusion, and demonstrating empathy and compassion."
"In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice," Cardinal O'Malley said. "Now, we have to come together in defense of the human person, where the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all of those whose right to life is threatened."
Other speakers at the conference included Emily Geiger, the director of Education & Outreach at the Equal Rights Institute; Sister Mariae Agnus Dei of the Sisters of Life; and Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.