Saturday, October 01, 2016

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Denver, Colo., Oct 1, 2016 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Voters in Colorado will decide whether to legalize assisted suicide in their state in November, after a campaign gathered enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot.

If passed, the measure known as the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act would allow for someone with a terminal illness to request a lethal prescription from their physician. The person must be at least 18 years old, deemed mentally competent, and have a diagnosis from two physicians of six months or fewer to live. The measure also requires that they self-administer the drug, called secobarbital, which is also used for lethal injections in some states.

But these safeguards are not enough to keep Coloradans safe from coercion and error, argues Carri Ann Lucas, an attorney and board member for Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group that advocates against assisted suicide measures.

“Nobody wants themselves or their family members to suffer, but they haven’t thought through all of the policy implications of a decision like this, and passing a measure like this,” Lucas said.

“I think Compassion and Choices is just trying to play on the ignorance of voters and count on the ignorance of voters,” she added. “If people are educated about this proposal, they will not support it.”

The new initiative, largely pushed for by Compassion and Choices, counts on voter ignorance about safeguards and legal concerns surrounding physician assisted suicide in order to pass, Lucas said. It comes after two assisted suicide measures – one initiated in the Senate and one in the House – failed to make it to a floor vote in the state legislature. Last year, the Colorado legislature rejected a similar bill, citing concerns about the lack of safeguards in place.

One of the big issues with the newest proposal, Lucas said, is that it does not require a physician or medical professional to be present at the time of the drug’s administration, meaning that there is a concerning margin for error and no one to help if something goes wrong.

“There’s nothing stopping someone from abusing an elder or family member by flipping these medications into their applesauce and feeding them to the individual,” she said. “But also there’s no assurance that these drugs will work as intended, and nobody’s there to ensure that people are safe at the time that they’re administered, that there aren’t any adverse effects that need to be treated at the same time.”

“These are the same types of drugs that are used for lethal injection and we know how that can go awry at times, so that’s certainly a concern,” she added.

Another concern is the conflict of interest in the witnesses of the decision to seek assisted suicide, Lucas said. Under the proposed initiative, a friend or family member would be able to legally witness a loved one’s decision to seek assisted suicide.

“As an attorney, I can’t have an interested party witness a will, so we’re going to now let an interested party help sign a request to seek a lethal prescription?” Lucas asked.

“There aren’t safeguards to ensure … that family members aren’t coercing people into seeking assisted suicide, so somebody who’s an heir to an estate can take their loved one to a doctor’s office and witness their request, even though they stand to inherit from the person if they follow through on that request,” she added.

Additionally, the supposed safeguard about mental competency is another concern, Lucas said. In the language of the proposal as it stands, individuals seeking assisted suicide are only give a psychological evaluation if the doctor deems it necessary – meaning many people with depression or other mental health problems could slip through the cracks, and be killed instead of treated. 

The debate surrounding the issue has been heated, and has many news outlets in Colorado grappling with the semantics of it all, debating whether to continue calling the taking of lethal prescriptions “assisted suicide” or “medical aid in dying” – which is used by groups like Compassion and Choices, which advocates for legalized assisted suicide.

Several disability groups in Colorado have joined forces with each other as well as groups of physicians and faith-based groups to fight assisted suicide legislation in the past two years. The disability rights groups argue that assisted suicide discriminates against the disabled as well as people with a low income, because it is cheaper for insurance companies to pay for someone’s death than to pay for lifelong medical care.

In Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide, there have been cases of cancer patients who are denied chemotherapy treatment, but instead are offered lethal prescriptions.

The groups have also argued that doctors can make mistakes when diagnosing terminal illnesses – a person who is given six months to live may outlive their diagnosis, sometimes by many years.

As with past assisted suicide legislation, the problem with the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act is that there is too wide a margin for error, Lucas said.

“Frankly, no safeguards have been proposed that would alleviate our concerns.”

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 31, 2016.

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Tbilisi, Georgia, Oct 1, 2016 / 10:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to Georgia's religious and civil authorities on Saturday, Pope Francis affirmed the country's Christian identity, and called the Georgian Orthodox Church to recall the unity of baptism among Christian believers.

“Those baptized in Christ, as Saint Paul teaches, have been clothed in Christ,” the Pope said Oct. 1 at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, located just 15 miles northwest of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

“Thus, notwithstanding our limitations and quite apart from all successive cultural and historical distinctions, we are called to be 'one in Christ Jesus' and to avoid putting first disharmony and divisions between the baptized, because what unites us is much more than what divides us.”

The cathedral is the seat of the Patriarchate of Georgia, one of 14 autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches. Pope Francis was addressing Patriarch Ilia II, along with religious and civil authorities and representatives of the diplomatic corps and the academic and cultural world.

The Pope made his remarks at the cathedral during his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Focused largely on the topics of peace, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue, the trip is seen as a conclusion of his Caucasus tour, following his visit to Armenia in June.

Pope Francis' visit to Georgia finds a country where dialogue among Christians is particularly difficult, with cool relations between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the country’s tiny Catholic minority.

The Georgian Orthodox Church – to which more than 80 percent of Georgians adhere – is considered part of the national identity. While it is not an established religion, the Georgian constitution does acknowledge Georgian Orthodoxy's special role in the nation. Catholics, meanwhile, constitute only one percent of Georgia's population.

Pope Francis thanked the Georgian people for their welcome of him and their witness of faith, and told Ilia, “the Lord has granted us the joy of meeting one another and of exchanging a holy kiss; may he pour out upon us the fragrant balm of concord and bestow his abundant blessings upon our path.”

He commended the Georgian language for its “meaningful expressions which describe fraternity, friendship and closeness among people” and asked that such a fraternal attitude might “mark the way ahead for our journey together.”

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is traditionally held to hold the relics of St. Sidonia, who was buried with Christ's seamless tunic. Reflecting on this, Pope Francis said the cathedral “invites us to remember the past,” saying this is “more necessary than ever.”

Georgia's history “relates holy testimonies and Christian values which have forged the soul and culture of the country,” and expresses openness, welcome, and integration.

“These are most precious and enduring values, both for this land and the entire region,” he said. “Such values express the Christian identity, which is maintained when deeply rooted in faith, and also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.”

“The Christian message – as this holy place recalls – has for centuries been the pillar of Georgian identity: it has given stability through so many upheavals, even when, sadly not infrequently, the fate of the nation was bitterly left to fend for itself,” Pope Francis reflected.

“But the Lord never abandoned the beloved land of Georgia, because he is 'faithful in all his words and loving in all his deeds; he upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.'”

He said God's “tender and compassionate closness” is shown particularly by Christ's tunic, “'without seam, woven from top to bottom', [which] has attracted the attention of Christians from the beginning.”

He referred to St. Cyprian of Carthage, who called the tunic a sign of Christian unity, “which could not be definitively rent.” Francis said the tunic “exhorts us to feel deep pain over the historical divisions which have arisen among Christians,” calling them “the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”

“At the same time, however, 'that unity which comes from above', the love of Christ which has brought us together … urge us to not give up but rather to offer ourselves as he did” and to “sincere charity and to mutual understanding, to bind up wounds, with a spirit of pure Christian fraternity.”

He added that this “requires patience nurtured through trusting others and through humility” and “rejoicing in the certainty which Christian hope allows us to enjoy.”

This certainty helps us believe “differences can be healed and obstacles removed,” he said, and “invites us never to miss opportunities for encounter and dialogue, and to protect and together improve what already exists.”

He pointed to baptism's profound role in Georgian culture, noting that the Georgian word for “education” comes from the same root and “thus relates strictly to baptism.”

“The elegance of the language helps us think of the beauty of Christian life that, from its radiant beginnings, is maintained when it remains in the light of goodness, and when it rejects the darkness of evil,” he said.

“Such beauty of the Christian life is preserved when, by guarding faithfulness to its own roots, it does not give in to closed ways of thinking which darken life, but rather remains well-disposed to welcome and to learn, to be enlightened by all that is beautiful and true.”

He assured Georgians of his prayers, that the Lord might “deepen the love between all believers in Christ and the enlightened pursuit of everything which brings us together, reconciles us and unites us.”

“May prayer and love make us ever more receptive to the Lord’s ardent desire, so that everyone who believes in Him, through the preaching of the Apostles, will 'be one'.”

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