Recognizing each person as God's gift Print
Respect Life
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008 -- 3:00 PM

People with mental, physical, or cognitive disabilities face challenges from the everyday tasks of dressing and transportation to the larger challenges of interacting in a world that is not always welcoming.

During Respect Life Month, it is particularly important to remember that each person is a gift from God, in whatever guise. It is also important to recognize that each of us is differently-abled and this infinite variety is a gift too.

In 1982, the U.S. Bishops established the forerunner of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD). By emphasizing the need to welcome all to the table of the Lord and to treat all with justice, NCPD has helped lead the way to inclusion of people with disabilities to sacramental life and all areas of ministry, including ordination and consecrated life.

This fall, I was honored to be elected to the Board of NCPD. I was immediately tapped to serve on the Ethics Committee and helped author a statement urging opposition to the state of Washington’s "Death with Dignity Act." The statement has been distributed across the nation to alert people to the terrible effect such legislation has on all people, but especially on those with disabilities.

The statement points out how this legislation is cynically misleading, actually requiring doctors to falsify death certificates. The clear meaning of words are changed so that "self-administering life-ending medication" is not allowed to be called suicide or assisted suicide.

The pro-euthanasia movement has been working assiduously to add one more state to Oregon's infamous category allowing assisted suicide. Washington is the target state. Pro-euthanasia supporters are sending a flood of money to purchase advertising. They have raised over $2.5 million compared to the pro-life side's $847,447. (To learn more of this effort, go to www.noassistedsuicide.com).

NCPD is very concerned because people with disabilities are frequently the first to be denied true compassionate care. "The right to die" very soon becomes "the duty to die." Studies show that when people are treated appropriately for depression and pain, "their wish to die usually disappears."

The facts show that once assisted suicide was legalized in Oregon, terminal patients had increased problems in getting adequate pain treatment. With an ironic twisting of the meaning of words, the Oregon Health plan considers assisted suicide as a form of pain treatment. An Oregon woman was recently denied life-prolonging chemotherapy, but was offered assisted suicide. Luckily for her, the drug company that manufactures the drug stepped in to provide her with assistance.

The Washington Initiative makes truly compassionate care less available and pain is managed by offering death, not care. The patient is eliminated, not the pain.

The USCCB provided a "Will for Living" in the Respect Life packets sent to all parishes in our diocese. This highlights yet another challenge for people with disabilities, because ". . . disabled people can internalize society's negative attitude about their condition" and choose to forego appropriate treatment. This pamphlet, written by NCPD president-elect, Stephen L. Mikochik, gives many insights as to how subtle and not-so-subtle forces affect treatment and end of life decisions.

There are 14 million people in the United States who live with challenges but who love life. We Catholics, as people who cherish all life, need to defend the right of the disabled to equal health care, to welcome them equally into our church ministries and to work for equal justice for all.

As the psalm from last Sunday's liturgy said so beautifully, "I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." Let us be there to open the doors and provide the welcome, working side by side, so that all will see our joy in loving God and loving life.

Action Items

Call or e-mail family and friends in the state of Washington and urge them to "Vote NO" on Initiative 1000.

Visit www.ncpd.org to see the top 10 ways to provide "Welcome and Justice for Persons with Disabilities."

Read "A Will for Living" at www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp/mikochik.pdf

See the options for care in our diocese at www.ccmadison.org and click "Developmental Disabilities."

Support the Apostolate to the Handicapped, P.O. Box 443, Monroe, WI 53566.

Contact the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach for information on including people with disabilities at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 608-821-3086.

Susanna D. Herro is the director of the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach in the Diocese of Madison.