April 5, 2019

Assisted-suicide legislation stalls in Indiana General Assembly

By Victoria Arthur

Efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide have once again failed in Indiana, but the Catholic Church and other pro-life advocates vow to remain vigilant as the practice continues to gain momentum in other parts of the country.

Last week, New Jersey became the eighth state to sanction assisted suicide, allowing adults deemed terminally ill to obtain and self-administer life-ending medication. Meanwhile, in Maryland, the state Senate blocked an assisted-suicide bill following intense debate that ended in a tie vote.

In Indiana, companion bills promoting assisted suicide were introduced early in the 2019 legislative session—one in each chamber of the General Assembly. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) opposed both bills and urged lawmakers to halt them. Neither bill received a hearing.

“We are grateful that these troubling bills did not advance, and we praise leaders in both the Indiana House and Senate for recognizing the detrimental effect the practice of physician-assisted suicide would have on our state,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “Promoting the dignity and sanctity of life from conception to natural death is critically important, especially in a culture that continues to erode at these basic moral values.”

Like similar attempts in recent years, House Bill 1184, authored by Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), and Senate Bill 300, authored by Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago), both ran into roadblocks in the Republican-controlled legislature, which leans pro-life. The bills stalled when Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (R-Beech Grove) and Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport) declined to have them heard in their respective committees, to which the bills had been assigned.

The ICC had spoken out against the proposed legislation in conjunction with other members of the Indiana Alliance Against Assisted Suicide. The coalition also includes the Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA), which formally rejected physician-assisted suicide in 2016.

Fort Wayne-based physician Andrew Mullally, a member of the alliance and an outspoken opponent of assisted suicide for years, views this as the “future of the pro‑life movement.”

“The whole guise of physician-assisted suicide severely marginalizes those who cannot speak for themselves,” said Mullally, a member of ISMA and the Catholic Medical Association. “Obviously, the unborn have no voice, but this also extends to the disabled and the elderly in many cases. As a society, we are all less safe when this type of legislation passes anywhere.”

New Jersey now joins California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia in allowing assisted suicide. In addition to Maryland, New Mexico is another state that has come close to legalizing the practice, which proponents often describe as “death with dignity” and a means of avoiding a painful, prolonged death when a person faces a terminal, debilitating illness.

Mullally and other opponents of assisted suicide maintain that hospice care and palliative care offer patients true dignity in such situations, providing comfort measures and compassion in the most difficult circumstances. In addition, Mullally points to the countless ethical issues and dilemmas posed by assisted suicide.

“If we as physicians have to be arbiters of life and death, that presents us with an inherent conflict of interest,” said Mullally, who operates Credo Family Medicine, a pro-life practice affiliated with the Dr. Jerome Lejeune Catholic Medical Guild of Northeast Indiana. He points to increasing cost-control efforts in health care as potentially damaging for the most vulnerable patients, as doctors opt to provide them with less care or, at the most extreme, a means to end their lives.

“The protection of human life is crumbling around us at a rapid pace that many people don’t appreciate,” he said.

The biggest national organization driving the assisted suicide movement is Compassion and Choices, which claims that it “improves care and empowers everyone to chart their end-of-life journey.” Barbara Lyons, who counsels Indiana and other states on ways to combat the movement, offers a stark counterpoint to this description.

“This organization has a stated goal of having lethal drugs available to half the population of the United States,” said Lyons, coalitions director of the Patients Rights Action Fund. “They are very well‑funded, and they have a concerted effort to assault states with their agenda and messaging.”

Lyons, who helped establish the Indiana Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, said she was “deeply disappointed” although not surprised by the recent developments in New Jersey.

“Compassion and Choices had long wanted a major state on the east coast,” Lyons said. “They’re looking at big‑population states, and they come into these states with lots of money, and with stories that help them sell their concept.”

While Indiana is not one of the group’s primary targets and the topic appears to be closed for this legislative session, Lyons and others say that no one can be complacent in the current climate.

“We have worked hard to build a good coalition here in our state to combat this movement,” Mullally said. “But we are always one election away from things changing. We need to be ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice.”

To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.
 

(Victoria Arthur, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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