Husband & Wife Articles


True Compassion in Dying

Families must know that medical care can never include assisting in suicide

By Ryan Verret

“It is this capacity for service to the life and dignity of the sick, even when they are old, that is the measure of the true progress of medicine, and of all society.”
Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy for Life

Physician-assisted suicide has been in the news cycle for years, and there is a well-funded push for its acceptance. Think of the sympathetic stories about Brittany Maynard, a young, newly married woman who had an inoperable brain tumor. She and her husband moved from California to Oregon to “take advantage” of Oregon’s so-called “death with dignity laws.” Now there is the movie, “Me Before You,” romanticizing euthanasia and suicide.

In our current cultural and political climate, how can families have honest conversations about this topic, and how can the Catholic Church join the public discussion?

The Church has always advocated policies that are at the service of those living with a disability or terminal illness. “Care but never kill,” summarizes the truth that we must always treat human life with reverence, respect and dignity.

Yet our “throwaway culture,” as Pope Francis calls it, is now corroding the highest levels of medical care and policy. On June 13, the American Medical Association rejected proposals to reaffirm a long-standing policy that opposes doctor-assisted suicide, and approved a plan that may lead to the medical body taking a neutral stand on the practice. The AMA’s action is alarming, for it is antithetical to a doctor’s mission to support, heal and comfort. A bad decision by the AMA will not only have a lasting impact on how medicine is practiced, but also on how family members respond to the needs of the elderly, disabled and terminally ill. The good news is that there is a better model for our families to follow, one that is quietly lived out daily with great love.

I was very blessed to be raised near my extended family and I continue to live near my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and many cousins. With three generations living nearby, I have seen firsthand the proper way to care for those who are elderly and terminally ill. Dear to memory is my great-grandmother, affectionately called “Mamit.” She was the strong-willed, independent matriarch of seven children and numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and even one grandchild who was great-great-great! Mamit was married for many happy years, and she fostered and benefited from a true culture of care in our family.

When it was found that her heart was weak and her time with us would be ending soon, there was an immediate response by everyone to enjoy and cherish those remaining days with Mamit. As the days passed, and particularly in the last week of her life, people were so generous taking care of Mamit and providing her with kindness and comfort. There were no conversations about inconvenience, being a burden, or how much money Mamit was costing toward the end of her life. She was not perfect, and neither were we, but throughout her life, Mamit sowed love, and at the end she reaped love with great generosity. We saw her life, every last second of it, as a great gift from God.

Families need to pray and take action to ensure the AMA does not change its policy of opposition to assisted suicide. We need to deepen a culture of care within our own families so that the “throw-away” culture does not erode the beautiful fabric of family life. We must be witnesses in our families and communities to the fact that a sick person’s cry for support and love should never be answered by a doctor’s prescription for taking his or her own life. The way that we care for our sick or disabled family members is a witness to the dignity and value of human life. The best option will always be one that relies on God’s providential design. Families that cooperate with his grace are the truly compassionate caregivers.  

Ryan Verret and his wife, Mary-Rose, are founders of the Witness to Love apostolate and co-authors of Witness to Love: How to Help the Next Generation Build Marriages that Survive and Thrive. They live in the heart of Louisiana Cajun country with their three children, and a fourth due later this year.