Indiana Senate resolution condemns physician-assisted suicide 

By Victoria Arthur

Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers

After the latest effort to push for physician-assisted suicide in Indiana failed at the Statehouse, some lawmakers took the extra step of issuing a resolution condemning the practice to help ensure it never takes hold here. 

The Indiana Senate approved the resolution on March 4, just days before the early conclusion of the 2024 General Assembly and at a time when more than a dozen states were considering joining the ranks of those already allowing physician-assisted suicide.

In light of the Catholic Church’s longstanding commitment to upholding the dignity of human life, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) hailed the statement as an important stand. 

“Physician-assisted suicide neither allows for a natural death nor respects the dignity of the person, both of which are fundamental teachings of the Church,” said Angela Espada, ICC executive director, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “Additionally, these types of laws are not in the best interest of patients, particularly patients who are vulnerable due to a devastating illness or debilitating circumstance in life. These are the people who should be cared for and most protected, not given tools to harm themselves.” 

In physician-assisted suicide, which is currently legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, adults deemed terminally ill can obtain and then self-administer life-ending medication. Proponents often use terms such as “end-of-life options” or “death with dignity” in presenting their case for what they contend is a means of avoiding a painful, prolonged death when a person faces a terminal, debilitating illness.

But opponents of physician-assisted suicide – including the American Medical Association – maintain that palliative care and hospice care offer patients true dignity in such situations, providing comfort measures and compassion in the most difficult circumstances.

Dr. Tyler Johnson, an emergency room physician in northeast Indiana who is the lawmaker behind the Senate resolution, points to numerous ethical issues inherent in the practice of assisted suicide.

“Physicians are typically with their patient during the patient’s most vulnerable moments, and that alone carries a responsibility that most professions do not,” said Johnson (R-Leo), who has been a member of the Indiana Senate since 2022. “It is a far stretch to get from palliative care and allowing natural death to physician-assisted suicide. Unfortunately, there are people in the world who have embraced this evil to promote suicide among the most vulnerable individuals. 

“You cannot compassionately kill a patient and you cannot care for the patient you are comfortable killing,” he continued. “As a physician in my 15th year of medicine, I cannot fathom what it feels like to give up and stop trying. Physician-assisted suicide is contrary to a physician’s duty as a healer and undermines the physician-patient relationship, and we must condemn this unethical medical practice.”

In a statement he issued following the Senate’s passage of his resolution, Johnson also called attention to the euphemisms surrounding physician-assisted suicide.

“Those in support will often use softened terms like medical assistance in dying to try to make suicide sound satisfactory,” Johnson said. “But let us not be confused: We are discussing a physician taking steps to end a patient’s life.” 

A major driver behind the physician-assisted suicide movement is the Colorado-based organization Compassion & Choices. The group backs “End of Life Options” legislation such as House Bill 1011, the physician-assisted suicide measure introduced this year in the Indiana General Assembly. Virtually identical in content to legislation proposed in prior years, the bill failed to receive a hearing. 

Still, the ICC and other opponents of physician-assisted suicide say they must remain vigilant as the movement continues to gain momentum.

Twenty years ago, Oregon was the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The practice is now allowed in nine others – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington – in addition to the District of Columbia. 

This year, physician-assisted suicide legislation has been introduced in more than a dozen other states, including Illinois, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. In the Virginia General Assembly, a bill made its way through the Senate before stalling in the House the first week of March. 

Two prominent Catholic bishops in Virginia had issued a statement condemning the legislation, in keeping with the Church’s long history of social teaching on the sanctity of life. 

“Human life is sacred and must never be abandoned or discarded,” wrote Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, Virginia. “Legalizing (assisted suicide) would place the lives of people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, the elderly, and those unable to afford health care – among others – at heightened risk of deadly harm.”

The bishops added that “people facing the end of life are in great need, and must be accompanied with great care and attentiveness.”

“To address each of their needs and alleviate their suffering, patients deserve high-quality medical, palliative and hospice care – not suicide drugs.”

ICC leaders have been closely monitoring developments around the United States involving this issue, keeping in touch with their counterparts at other Catholic Conferences nationwide. They say they want to ensure that physician-assisted suicide never becomes a reality in Indiana, while also speaking out against the death penalty and other matters in opposition to the sanctity of life.  

“It’s important to remain vigilant and understand what’s happening around the country with regard to these critical issues,” said Alexander Mingus, ICC associate director. “It is also important to understand what the Church’s teaching is and to articulate that clearly as we bring the voice of the Church to the public forum.”To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit