RNS linked this interview with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa. While I can appreciate the passion and frustration of a pastor dealing with people who are dying, a few cautions surfaced for me. One was liturgical:
(A person who requests a lethal injection) lacks the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick.
If a person is asking to die, I would think that usually covers the situation of an individual near death. Viaticum might be a better choice than anointing. Most people seeking assistance to commit suicide are quite close to the end of life anyway.
Asking your priest to be present to something that is in direct contradiction to our Catholic values is not fair to the pastor. Of course a pastor will try and dissuade a patient from requesting suicide and will pray with them and their family, but asking him to be present is in effect asking him to condone a serious sin.
I might be less sure about this pronouncement. I can imagine the situation of a person who is, say, of age sixty and is just tired of living. Of course, that might imply such a person has a psychological illness–depression, anxiety, or something along those lines. I wouldn’t want to be involved with such a spectacle, either. But a good pastoral minister would be aware of such a thing developing and possibly assist in heading off the notion of suicide.
I can also imagine that a cancer sufferer wracked with pain might wish for relief, and I would hesitate to say that such an individual is blessed with a clarity of thought. The health insurance system being as unsatisfactory as it has been in this country for decades, it’s not clear to me that a dying person would get the palliative care they need.
In the either case, I might imagine that the presence of a priest or another minister of the church during this time of decision might be of comfort to the family or friends, especially if there is someone present who disagrees with the decision to commit suicide. What does a minister do? Step outside while the lethal drugs take effect? Assess if the person is in her or his right mind and celebrate Viaticum before the act?
Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation.
I think a person has to be accustomed to the virtue of hope. I find it to be the most difficult and possibly overlooked of the Big 3. In a culture that values a person as long as she or he can contribute as a productive cog in the machine (and I don’t just mean work) this is a big momentum shift. The Church itself is often culpable in this regard. Our voice doesn’t ring true in some circles.
Perhaps clergy reading this might weigh in on whether they might celebrate Viaticum. Case by case situation? I think this pronouncement from Archbishop Prendergast hits the wrong audience. I feel skeptical on the scare tactics on the sacraments. But maybe this has been in discussion with parish clergy and ministers already. This is what I would do. What about you?