Amid a push to legalize physician-assisted suicide in parts of Europe, 118 French bishops signed a declaration this week promoting end-of-life care and explaining the Church’s opposition to suicide in all forms.
“Whatever our convictions, the end of life is a time we all will live and a concern we share. Everyone must be able to think as calmly as possible, avoiding the pitfalls of passions and pressures,” the bishops said in the document.
“We want, above all, to express our full compassion for our brothers and sisters at the ‘end of life,’ as the Church has always tried to do. They present themselves in their weaknesses…their existence is a call: what humanity, what attention, what kind of solicitude will we show to those who live among us?” the bishops continued.
The declaration, called “End of Life: Yes to the Urgency of Fraternity,” was signed by 118 French bishops on March 22. The document was published to promote compassion towards those nearing the end of their lives, and to oppose physician-assisted suicide legislation.
In the document, the French bishops applauded the medical professionals who provide individuals with palliative and end-of-life care. However, they lamented the limited access to palliative care, due to the limited number of trained health care workers in the field.
“Because of these shortcomings and the media hype of some cases, many are calling for a change in the law through the legalization of medical assisted suicide and euthanasia,” they continued.
But to change the law, they said, would undermine pre-existing legislation that “ensures a peaceful end to life,” which was passed on Feb. 2, 2016.
“Changing the law would show a lack of respect not only for the legislative work done already, but also for the patient and progressive involvement of caregivers,” the bishops noted.
Accepting physician-assisted suicide in France would be contradictory, they continued, since the nation is also promoting efforts to fight against suicide.
They also noted that it would be contrary to the country’s Code of Medical Ethics, which states that doctors must carry out their mission “with respect for human life, the person and his dignity.”
“Killing, even pretending to invoke compassion, is by no means care. It is urgent to safeguard the vocation of medicine,” the bishops remarked.
Placing the weight of physician-assisted suicide on doctors and caregivers will inevitably result in the questioning of human dignity and a strained relationship between doctors and patients, they said.
“This issue will cause inevitable tensions for patients, their loved ones and caregivers. It would weigh seriously on their relationship.”
Furthermore, individuals nearing death are often vulnerable and should be guided with solidarity and support, not “a gesture of death,” the bishops said. They added that terminal patients who may be experiencing despair and desperation must not be left with “premature abandonment to the silence of death,” but rather with “more attentive accompaniment.”
The idea that assisted suicide is a personal choice that affects no one else is a false notion, the bishops continued, explaining, “The injuries of the individual body are wounds of the social body. If some people make the desperate choice of suicide, society has a duty to prevent this traumatic act.”
Moving forward, the French bishops called on the nation’s citizens to remember the story of the Good Samaritan, who passed a wounded man in the street. Instead of leaving the man to die, he cared for him and made sure he received the proper care and attention to recover.
“In light of this story, we call our fellow citizens and our parliamentarians to a burst of consciousness so that a fraternal society can be built ever more in France where we will take individual and collective care of each other.”