Students urge Alaska legislators to reject assisted suicide bill

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Catholic students in Anchorage have taken a stand against proposed legislation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide in Alaska.

House Bill 99, titled “Voluntary Termination of Life,” was introduced to the Alaska legislature in February by Anchorage Democrat Representatives Harriet Drummond and Andy Josephson. The bill aims to grant physicians the right to prescribe lethal drugs for the purpose of suicide. Among the many citizens contacting representatives to oppose the legislation are high school students from Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage.

As a Catholic school, one of the many aims at Holy Rosary is to instill the virtue of patriotism — encouraging students to be good citizens by taking an active role in politics. Once this bill came to the attention of Principal Catherine Neumayr, she brought it to the students’ attention.

“Our seniors are studying apologetics, and I thought that this would be a wonderful exercise to make a well-reasoned and thoughtful response in the public forum in defense of life,” she said.

Neumayr decided to involve the entire high school, teaching them the lesson that living in “a nation whose Constitution and Declaration of Independence are based on Christian principles, it is the right of every citizen to speak out about those principles, the foremost being life,” she explained.

This idea was reinforced when Neumayr attended a public debate at Bear Tooth Theater with some friends who send their children to Holy Rosary. In the panel debate, Doctor Mary Lanza argued against the bill. Subsequently Neumayr invited her husband, Dr. Mario Lanza, to speak to the high school students about the moral problems associated with physician-assisted suicide.

“I knew that he could bring his medical expertise to the students’ attention,” Neumayr said.

Lanza spoke to the students about the immorality of doctor-prescribed suicide primarily from the medical perspective, and also addressed the philosophical and theological arguments.

According to the Catholic Catechism, any act (or omission) which “of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.”

Even if death is thought imminent, Catholic teaching maintains that ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted in order to cause their death.

“We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us,” the Catechism affirms. “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life… It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

According to Neumayr, the students were quite engaged by Lanza’s presentation and asked many thoughtful questions. Ultimately they were motivated to take a stand in defense of human life.

First, Holy Rosary theology teachers introduced the topic to classes, allowing the students to discuss and debate.

“It was a good apologetics lesson for them, as many of them had never thought about it before,” said freshmen theology teacher Christina Forbes. “It was good for them to be exposed to this, as it may become more prevalent in the future. We had to discuss a good deal, because it’s a difficult topic, especially for ninth graders.”

Forbes said many students initially shied away from the topic due to its sensitive nature. Ultimately, however, most students came away believing that doctor-prescribed suicide is wrong, and they are better prepared to defend this position.

Following Lanza’s presentation and in-class discussions, each student wrote a letter to their local representative asking them to vote against HB 99.

Writing the letters demonstrated students understood how doctor-prescribed suicide violates the natural law, a concept that is critical to student’s classical, rhetorical formation at Holy Rosary. The students wrote individualized letters, each coming from a unique and personal perspective, while at the same time remaining rooted in natural law. The choice of whether to mail the letters was left to each student. All but a few sent them off, according to Neumayr.

A number of letters shared common rebuttals against assisted suicide, such as the claim that it is an act of mercy which puts suffering patients out of their pain. Several students refuted this by distinguishing between ending suffering and ending life. Furthermore, they pointed out that suggesting or encouraging an already suffering — and likely depressed — person to end his life, reinforces psychological and spiritual suffering, which may make him feel like a burden, or that the remainder of his life is hopeless.

Supporters of doctor-prescribed suicide argue that the involvement of a doctor grants dignity in the death of the individual. Holy Rosary students took this claim to task, arguing that a doctor helping a patient kill herself is not dignified, but rather a violation of the centuries-old Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to his patient. Many of the students were flabbergasted, wondering why this medical principle has fallen by the wayside.

According to Neumayr, students hope the letters move the hearts and minds of Alaska’s legislators as they consider this measure.


'Students urge Alaska legislators to reject assisted suicide bill' have 1 comment

  1. February 2016 @ 10:02 pm Ron Kotyk

    Good for you students and teachers for taking a stand on this important topic. Respect for life and a realization that suffering is something that all Christians and other compassionate people need not ignore or avoid at all costs but one of the human conditions that we must all experience to some degree in life
    Offering up our own suffering and sharing in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the greatest gifts we can offer the living , loving God that sent his Son to suffer and die for us willingly and lovingly on a cross of our creation. Let’s not be afraid to pick up our crosses of suffering and follow our Savior at the side of all who suffer.

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