Janet A. Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, the world’s largest mobilization of women who have had abortions. A native New Yorker, she was a public school teacher before becoming involved in pro-life work. She co-hosts the Defending Life and Catholic View for Women series on EWTN, and is a frequent guest on other TV and radio programs. She is the recipient of Legatus’ Cardinal John O’Connor Pro-life Hall of Fame Award. Her first book, Recall Abortion, was published by Saint Benedict Press.
In comments on my opinion piece for the National Catholic Register and in editorials and news stories in the secular media, I have been taken to task for judging Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with brain cancer who chose to end her own life last weekend with lethal drugs prescribed legally in Oregon.
I did not judge her. I judged the act of suicide, which is wrong even if done for reasons as heartbreaking as Ms. Maynard’s fatal diagnosis. Suicide and its modern-day step-child, physician-assisted suicide, are wrong according to the Church I love and whose teachings I follow.
The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in the “Vatican Document on Euthanasia” in 1980 that “intentionally causing one’s own death, or suicide … is equally as wrong as murder.” Of euthanasia, the document states: “It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself.”
This teaching could not be more crystal clear. When Catholics criticize me for saying Ms. Maynard should not have chosen this path, I can only assume they don’t know and understand the Church’s teachings. This serves as a wake-up call in pointing out just how misunderstood end-of-life issues are in light of Church teaching.
While I don’t relish being lambasted in public, I am at least in good company. Archbishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, also has been criticized for speaking out against Ms. Maynard’s suicide.
“We don’t judge people, but the gesture itself is to be condemned” the Archbishop said during an interview with an Italian news agency. “Assisted suicide is an absurdity. Dignity is something different than putting an end to your own life.”
Dignity is not found in some kind of pill or needle. Dignity is when you surround the suffering person with the love and care that reminds them that no matter how badly their body is functioning, they have not lost their value, and they have not lost our attention and they have not lost our love. Nor have they lost their place in society. That’s where dignity is.
For many in the secular world, it is difficult, if not impossible, to view suffering as something noble or dignified. But Catholics and many other people of faith around the world watched in awe how St John Paul suffered with Parkinson’s and yet carried on until God called him home. Here in New York, we were inspired by the example of Cardinal John O’Connor, who also had a brain tumor and celebrated Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral for as long as he was able. We prayed for miracles for these holy men, and yet we — and they — were able to accept their deaths as God’s will.
Following Cardinal O’Connor’s death, the Archdiocese of New York released a statement that faced head-on the cardinal’s suffering.
“One of the Cardinal’s most passionate beliefs was that by uniting our suffering with the suffering of Christ on the cross, we can be instruments of enormous good in the world. The Cardinal united his own illness and suffering of these past eight months with the suffering of Christ, and always accepted the changes in his condition with great faith in God, and in His mercy and gentle goodness.”
I have been at the bedside of loved ones, assisting in their care and holding their hands at the moment of their deaths. I’m not naïve about suffering. But I do know that in suffering, there are moments of grace, even for the person in pain. I have been witness to these moments. They taught me more about life than they did about death. They taught me about courage. They taught me about love and compassion and dignity.
Brittany Maynard’s suicide taught us something different. It showed us what can happen when we give in to hopelessness and despair.
I do not judge Brittany Maynard; I pray for her. The young woman’s soul is now in God’s hands. I am praying that one day she will be with the Lord.