By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
Another effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Indiana has stalled at the Statehouse, but the Catholic Church and other pro-life advocates remain watchful for developments on both the state and national levels in this election year.
House Bill 1020, known as the end-of-life options bill, marked the fourth attempt at this type of legislation by Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) since 2017. The measure, which was staunchly opposed by the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), failed to receive a hearing in the state legislature.
“We are pleased that this bill did not advance,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “It is in clear opposition to the Church’s teaching, which respects life from conception to natural death.”
The Catholic Church and other pro-life proponents nationwide have been working to stop the momentum of the assisted-suicide movement since 1997 when a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court left the decision to permit the practice to the states. Within months, Oregon passed its Death with Dignity Act, becoming the first state to give terminally ill adults the opportunity to obtain and self-administer life-ending medication.
This January, Maine became the ninth state to allow physician-assisted suicide, joining California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The practice also is legal in the District of Columbia. While the movement has not gained traction in Indiana yet, pro-life advocates remain “hypervigilant,” according to Jodi Smith, a lobbyist for Indiana Right to Life.
“Every single year, we look at every bill for anything related to end-of-life issues in any capacity,” said Smith, who also serves as state director of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national organization that supports pro-life lawmakers and educates Americans about where their legislators stand on the issues. “I think the landscape in Indiana still looks good.”
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.” But Smith, a medical nutritionist who also serves on the board of a hospice center in Plainfield, Indiana, counters that services such as hospice offer patients true compassion and dignity in their final days.
“Hospice is respectful, dignified, and dedicated to keeping people comfortable,” Smith said. “We don’t take extraordinary measures to keep patients alive; but we treat them 100 percent of the time as being alive, even if they are in a coma. The emphasis is always on respect for life until natural death.”
The Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA) formally rejected physician-assisted suicide in 2016. Among the leading experts on the issue is Dr. Andrew Mullally, a Fort-Wayne based physician who is a member of the Catholic Medical Association in addition to ISMA.
“Nationally, there is so much money behind this push that every year, we see another state fall to allow assisted suicide,” Mullally said. “It is a large group of people who want this, and they are well funded, so it is something that is going to continually come to the forefront. It’s important that we oppose this to avoid the objective evil that assisted suicide is, but additionally, to avoid all of the risks and the dangers that we have seen come with it in other countries.”
Mullally points to Canada, where the practice has not only been legal since 2016, but physicians are required in some provinces to refer patients for assisted suicide when it is requested. Even some Catholic hospitals are required to provide it.
“Since I refuse to do that, I could not be a doctor in Canada,” said Mullally, who operates Credo Family Medicine, a pro-life practice affiliated with the Dr. Jerome Lejeune Catholic Medical Guild of Northeast Indiana.
Mullally added that physician-assisted suicide continues to gain momentum in many European countries, with some even allowing pediatric euthanasia in certain cases.
“The abuses are widespread,” Mullally said. “I see a natural progression after legalization because the line in the sand is whether it’s ok to kill your patients or not. After it’s been decided that it is ok sometimes to kill your patients, that line will always be extended.”
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.