Since 1992, every October has been Respect Life Month in the U.S. Catholic Church. Over these 26 years, the threats to human life have grown so much that it is not far-fetched to say that a “culture of death” dominates our society, as Saint John Paul II called it. We need to courageously defend human life, from the moment of conception to natural death and every moment in between, now more than ever.
This year, the Respect Life Month theme is EVERY LIFE — CHERISHED — CHOSEN — SENT. This is a truth we hold because God is the origin of every human life. God creates us. God loves us. God places us in this world. We have the technology to look inside the womb and see the beauty and power of what is happening there. A human person is being formed. The camera shows us beyond any doubt that there is a human being in the womb; the pictures tell it all. Just look. Human life in the womb is a gift of God and unborn humans are persons with rights. Every human life is precious and sacred both in and outside the womb.
There are also threats to human dignity at the other end of the life cycle. Here in our state of New Jersey, politicians are working to allow doctors to end a human life through the administration of lethal drugs. There could be a vote in the New Jersey General Assembly as soon as Monday, Oct. 29. This bill would allow physicians to end the lives of terminally ill individuals considered to have six months to live. The New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of New Jersey in matters of public policy, outline just a few of the extremely troubling problems with this proposed legislation:
- A six-month prognosis for a terminal illness is not always accurate.
- A1504 would allow the death certificate to list the cause of death as the underlying terminal disease — not self-administered drugs that ended life. This would be a false statement on the death certificate — a legal document. The cause of death should be listed as self-administered drugs that ended life. A legal document should contain accurate information.
- A1504 would send the wrong message to our troubled youth and to our military. If the State of New Jersey passes a law that says it is OK to end your life if you have pain, what would we be telling our youth and veterans who are troubled? Would we be saying — that if you have pain it’s OK to take the path of suicide?
- Medical science is called to eradicate the illnesses from which we suffer; not to eradicate the patients who suffer the illnesses. Our duty is to assist those who are dying — not kill them.
Please take a stand for life and call your state legislators and tell them to vote NO on bill A1504.
Our Catholic understanding about the sacredness of human life has led our Holy Father Pope Francis recently to update the Church teaching concerning the death penalty, which the Pope has declared unacceptable in every circumstance because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. Previously, the Church allowed for the death penalty in very rare cases only as “a means of defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (Modern incarceration has eliminated the need to ever use capital punishment to protect society.) A prisoner who has received a death sentence has the same right to life as the unborn. The death row prisoner is made in the image of God. This does not mean that criminals should not be punished; society has an obligation to protect its citizens. However, the state is not God, and capital punishment allows it to play God. This change in Church teaching stems from our commitment to the protection of every life. Thankfully, New Jersey outlawed the death penalty in 2007, due in large part to the work of Catholic advocates. The next step is a nationwide ban.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, the Church declared Pope Paul VI a saint. Among his many contributions to the Church is his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), which affirmed the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and its opposition to artificial contraception. The Pope warned of the harm that would come to society, the institution of marriage, and respect for women when human life is attacked — all of which has unfortunately taken place. While for some Catholics the teachings of Humanae Vitae may be difficult to accept, the prophetic words of our new Saint Paul VI must be acknowledged and prayerfully considered by all of us. He speaks of the married vocation as one of service to God and humanity: “God has entrusted spouses with the extremely important mission of transmitting human life. In fulfilling this mission spouses freely and consciously render a service to God.” What a privilege married couples have to build up the Kingdom of God.
I encourage you to spend some time this month to reflect on how you can promote a culture of life in everything you do. Our faith calls us to steadfast prayer and action on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden