NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The battle lines are drawn as the Catholic church says it will fight efforts to legalize doctor-assisted suicide.
Last week, patients Steven Goldenberg and Sara Myers, who are suffering from terminal illnesses, joined doctors and disability rights groups in filing a lawsuit against the State of New York.
They’re asking the court to protect physicians from criminal prosecution if they aid in the death of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient.
“I value life enough to know that I don’t want to put anyone else in legal jeopardy because I might want to say enough is enough,” Myers said.
“I know the end is very near and I definitely want to have dignity going out,” plaintiff Steven Goldenberg said.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the issue is a high priority.
“The real death with dignity, the real heroes are those who die naturally, who take each day at a time, savoring everything they’ve got,” Dolan told the New York Daily News.
The Catholic Conference, headed by Dolan, has launched an aggressive campaign with a new website, Catholicendoflife.org, to serve as a resource to Catholics around the country for end-of-life decisions.
“We’re going to fight this very aggressively,” Ed Mechman, director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York, told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez. “I think that the website and other initiatives like that — educational initiatives — are essential.”
“People are afraid of dying, people are afraid of the suffering that goes along with it, it’s natural. But we want to make sure that people know what’s out there, that they know that suicide is not the answer; it’s just like those signs we put up on the bridges,” Mechman added. “Life is still worth living even when you’re terminally ill.”
Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of New York, said physician-assisted suicide is not the answer.
“We understand that people often face very difficult sets of circumstances, they do feel pain. We believe that life is sacred, that only one person can determine when we’re born and when we die, and that’s Almighty God,” Zwilling told 1010 WINS. “We want to work with people, we want to help people who are facing these difficult decisions, we want to try and help them die with real dignity.”
Zwilling said the Church supports alternatives such as hospice, palliative care and pain management.
“Great strides have been made in this field, more needs to be done, more research, more work and funding needs to go into that, and that’s something else that the bishops support,” Zwilling said.
Eric Seiff is one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the state of New York. He had cancer of the bladder which spread to his lungs.
Seiff said people should have the choice to die with dignity.
“I do not believe that a belief system, however passionately felt should be imposed on everybody else,” Seiff said.
He said he won’t give up his right to die.
“When I was younger I watched my mother die in excruciating pain. At that time I resolved I didn’t want to go through that,” he said.
New Jersey, California and Colorado are also considering similar bills that would legalize aid in dying.