ARUNDEL – The July 31 Sunday Telegram carried a Maine Voices column written by Bishop Richard Malone in which he outlined his beliefs as a Roman Catholic about assisted suicide and his arguments against its legalization.

His beliefs are based on his faith, and should be respected, but his arguments against allowing the practice in civil law are tenuous and unconvincing.

Most of his argument against assisted suicide is based on a single study done in Ireland, which purports to be based on a number of other unidentified studies. Without more information, what we are left with is that the bishop says that the Irish study says that another unidentified study says that in the Netherlands, 560 people were “killed” without having given “explicit” consent to their deaths.

Does explicit consent require two lawyers and a notary, armed with a living will and power of attorney? Would a verbal request from a dying patient be explicit consent?

Could explicit consent be inferred from the nod of a head, the squeeze of a hand, or the blink of an eye from a patient who is beyond speech? I suspect that at least some of these examples would not be “explicit” enough for the bishop.

The lack of explicit consent is termed “abuse” by the bishop. I would contend that “abuse” more clearly defines the forced continuation of suffering, but here we stray from arguments into beliefs. The bishop goes on to say that repeated attempts to bring the perpetrators of these events to trial were unsuccessful, implying some criminal malfeasance.

I would suggest that if the prosecutors in the Netherlands were unsuccessful in bringing about a trial, there is an excellent probability that a trial was not warranted.

The bishop contends that in Belgium, 66 cases of euthanasia happened without a request from the patient, and states that this situation is even worse than that in the Netherlands. This leaves me somewhat perplexed, since he has already stated that 560 patients were euthanized in the Netherlands. He cites his study as claiming that nearly half the cases of euthanasia in Belgium went unreported, and that legal requirements in the unreported cases were less likely to be followed.

This raises the question of how did the unreported cases get counted if they were unreported? Whose determination is it that legal requirements were not followed? Evidently not that of the appropriate legal authorities since no legal action resulted.

The bishop is concerned that restrictions on assisted suicide were loosened in Holland after it was legalized, implying that the Dutch are on a slippery slope to Hell, but providing no enlightenment as to why this is the case.

Could it simply be that after legalization, it became apparent that putting an end to suffering in a hopeless situation is really not such a bad idea? Or that Dutch citizens felt they had the right to determine the circumstances of their own death? Or that not everybody shares the bishop’s belief that only God can determine when a life should end?

Bishop Malone claims that cases of abuse have been documented in Oregon, but again fails to provide any backup information supporting this claim. The bishop’s conclusion that legalizing physician-assisted suicide is a prescription for abuse may be true to an extent. There is the possibility of family members pressuring the elderly to make decisions because of financial considerations.

But he ignores the potential for abuse in our current system. It is apparent that prolonging the life of a suffering, terminally ill patient provides financial benefit for many people employed in the health care industry as well as the institutions in which the terminally ill are cared for.

Bishop Malone’s contention that legalizing physician-assisted suicide would lead to medical malpractice seems patently absurd. It is under the present system that a doctor would be guilty of malpractice if he or she were to assist a terminally ill patient in ending their suffering. Legalizing the procedure would remove the threat to the doctor of a malpractice charge.

It is evident that he was prompted to state his case because of the recent newspaper article about Norman Morse’s end-of-life issues. That excellent report was thoughtful, compassionate and resonated with respect for an individual who had had a full life and wished it to end. Mr. Morse should also be commended posthumously for having the courage to go public with his situation.

It is unfortunate that Bishop Malone could not substantively address the predicament that the elderly and their families and friends face in this era of high-tech medicine, when the inevitable end can, at times, be postponed indefinitely.

His statements that assisted suicide is “a practice fraught with dangers” and is “gravely immoral” are simplistic and lack substance. His column is an attempt to discourage any change in the status quo regarding physician-assisted suicide, and to force his beliefs on those who do not share his faith by attempting to influence any future referendum on the subject.

That is unfortunate, because religion and politics never mix very well.

– Special to the Telegram