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January 17, 1997     The Message
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January 17, 1997
 

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4 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana -- Taking the time to make a difference -- The cost of 'nothing' A friend of mine once did a story for a local television station about "the cost of nothing." It was an eye-opening account. The story pointed out that some things cost money even if we don't use them. The obvious exam- ple is a telephone line, which will cost something even if you never make a single call on it. To have a telephone line for a month, you have to pay a basic charge, and maybe some taxes and other charges. A lot depends on who you are dealing with, and where you live. I don't know if the story came from an original idea from my reporter friend, but I do know that it caused a lot of comment from people who watched it. It was a good idea, and it caught the viewer's imagination. You might quibble with the accuracy of the title, and argue with the notion of paying for "noth- ing." It's true that simply having a telephone line in place is not exactly nothing. You pay for the conve- nience of having it there, just in cttse you want to use it, and that is something, I guess. The television story, as I recall, included such things as the costs connected with owning and insuring a car, having a cable television connection, By PAUL R. LEINGANG EDITOR and living in a house with various utilities connected -- gas, electric, water and sewer. At that time, at least, there were some things that seemed to be free, such as a library card. But a careful study of the municipal taxes collected in that community demon- strated that there were some costs for library services, too, even if a particular tax-payer never read a single book. Maybe there's no such thing as "the cost of nothing" but "doing nothing" can certainly be expensive. Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to Matthew contains an account of some discussion about pay- ing the temple tax. According to a footnote in the New American Bible, there was a time when every male Jew above 19 years of age was obliged to make an annual contribution to the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. Peter and Jesus will pay the temple tax, according to the account, with a coin that will be found in the mouth of a fish. They will pay the tax, even though they may believe they are not obligat- ed to do so. I am sure this scriptural passage should be the source of serious reflection about what it means to be a member of the kingdom. The mind, though, because it provides a year-old example of paying for the temple in this case -- whether you use it What do you pay for doing you have in your house that costs you even if you don't use it? If there are home, ask them to take part in this your material life. What are your obligations to pay: your community that you do not use? others what they think about the ( er childless persons who pay for public healthy persons who pay for When should a child begin family or the household? Take the time today to tions toward the support of y munity and your church. Answer have been paying only for goods received -- or if you are willing to pay ing the connections. Your answers may lead you to ence. Comments about this column are prleing@cfm.org or the Christian P.O. Box 272, Ames, Iowa 50010. ---- Washington This is your death: Cases to make people think about how By PATRICIA ZAPOR Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It's a safe bet that the way Ameri- cans face their own deaths will be changed forever beginning sometime this spring or early summer. Whatever the outcome of two cases the Supreme Court is con- sidering over whether there is a constitutional right to physician- assisted suicide, the rulings almost certainly will stir an unprecedented national debate and lead to increased attention ii The MESSAGE 4200 N. Kentucky Ave. Evansville, IN 47711 Weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville k, Published weekly except last week in, December by the Catholic Press of Evansville ............ Bish Gerald A. Cttelfirer ..................................... Paul R. I.iar Pmduct  ............... Joseph Ad,.,,i..._.: ............................ Paul Newtal Staff Writer ............................ Mary Ann Hughes Address aft communications to RO. Box 4169, Evansville, IN 47724-0169 Subscription rate: $17.50 per year Single Copy Price: $.50 Ent= m pedodcal mat at te post olfice in , W 47701.  IurW 84.Y. Pulam Colb1'ight 1996 Caglo Press of Evansvib i | nl " "" to when and how people die. Unlike Supreme Court cases that seem to affect only some obscure tax code or a narrow seg- ment of the criminal population, rulings that open or close the door to assisted suicide have the potential of touching everyone -- as they or their relatives face death, or how doctors and insur- ers treat them. "The dying process for all of us has begun," noted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments Jan. 8 in Vacco vs. Quill and Washington vs. Glucksberg: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ques- tions raised by the cases ulti- mately arise for everyone, no matter how long one manages to avoid it. The court is reviewing rulings by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and for the 9th Circuit, both of which said peo- ple have a constitutional right to have a doctor help them commit suicide. At the oral arguments, the justices seemed well aware of the implications of the decision they are being asked to make. They raised pointed questions about whether American society has mulled the issue long enough for the court to put its stamp on it; about whether government should give up responsibility for preventing unnatural deaths; and about how far i law allow- ing assisted suicide in supposed- ly very limited circumstances may slip to include people with mental illness or nonfatal dis- abilities. Although American society in other ways seems to glorify what Pope John Paul II has called the "culture of death," the justices pointed out that there has been relatively little attention to the physical and emotional condi- tions in which most people die, let alone to how that might change if assisted suicide became legal. As the justices settled in "to decide the cases with law.books,,. briefs and views formed by their own experiences with dying par- ents or spouses, the potential magnitude of the Pandora's box they opened was put into per- spective by doctors, lawyers and people with disabilities. The major arguments in favor of legal physician-assisted sui- cide in the last stages of termi- nal illness are emotionally per- suasive and have received widespread, sympathetic public- ity. Speaking at an American Enterprise Institute forum, Dr. Samuel C. Klagsbrun said he reluctantly came to support physician-assisted suicide under certain conditions: Those would include that the doctor know the patient well, in order to under- stand the patient's wishes in the context of religious beliefs, cul- ture and family background; that the patient received the best care to relieve suffering; and that steps be taken to ensure a sui- cide request does not stem from untreated depression. Patients in such circumstances "deserve not to be abandoned," said Klagsbrun, the medical director at private psychiatric hospitals in New York, and a con- sultant to St. Christopher's Hos- pice in London. But even Klagsbrun acknowl- edges "questions, doubts and fears," about whether it is possi- ble to limit assisted suicide to such a carefully-screened few. Advocates for people with mental and physical disabilities were among the most vocal activists in Washington to hear the oral arguments. Diane Cole- man, a lawyer who co-founded Not Dead Yet, an advocacy group for the disabled, warned that the "right to die" is already being forced upon people with physical impairments. "Quadriplegics and other sig- nificantly disabled people are dying wrongfully in increasing numbers because emergency room phjrs!ians , withhold aggressive treatment," said Coleman. People who breathe with the help of ventilators, infants with nonfatal disabilities, and those with relatively minor disabilities who need organ transplants are among those who find obstacles to receiving routine treatment, including being eIcouraged to sign "Do not resuscitate" orders during hospital admissions, she said. Coleman and others cautioned that cost-cutting concerns might mean assisted suicide is classi- fied as a preferred "treatment option" because it's cheaper than providing expensive drugs Or life- 'saving procedures and equitS- ment. Also raised was the argument that more than a quarter' of dying people receive inadequate palliative care, or treatment of their pain and depression. Dr. Kathleen M. Foley, chief of Pain Service at Memorial Sloan-Ket- tering Cancer Center in New York, said she sees patients daily who, after initially requesting assisted suicide, quickly change their minds once they receive sufficient pain medication. Then there were the broader, societal issues: Should doctors get into the means for do, to guarantee ers who are to participate? Who wise ed suicide from cost-conscious influence clans who own fears of a control on the And be doing to ease that makes is their best lessor Jr., who arguments, antly attention scores of briefs raising "They the social who wrote a states' rights suicide for Lutheran "And t tance to take lem as Bishop,s sch The following activities and events are ule of Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger: