Don't cut off the power of forgiveness

By Kathryn Jean Lopez

Back in 2001, I interviewed Philip Nitschke, an Australian doctor who's an international advocate for assisted suicide. He was candid during the course of the interview, admitting that the option to "give away" life should ultimately be available to "anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, (and) the troubled teen." He insisted: "If we are to remain consistent and we believe that the individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers in the way of subgroups who don't meet our criteria." He wanted to be sure that anyone who desired it had the "knowledge, training or recourse necessary."

Fifteen years later, Nitschke is waging the same campaign. He just has fewer people to convince now.

Nitschke recently formed the group Exit Action to push through legislation from a "militant pro-euthanasia position," arguing that "voluntary euthanasia" should never be "a privilege given to the very sick by the medical profession ... Exit Action believes that a peaceful death, and access to the best euthanasia drugs, is a right of all competent adults, regardless of sickness or permission from the medical profession."

As dark as this position is, I've always given Nitschke credit for honesty. On so many of the issues that strike at the heart of our humanity, euphemisms and cloaked motives often rule the "debates," such as they are.

My friend Ed Mechmann, a writer, marriage and life advocate and former prosecutor, recently pointed me to a blog post by the executive director of the End of Life Liberty Project, Kathryn Tucker. In it, Tucker, a lawyer representing plaintiffs currently suing New York State to legalize assisted suicide, protests against any legislative "burdens and restrictions" on the act.

She lists a litany of such supposedly unnecessary burdens, including a 15-day waiting period, witnesses, written requests to make sure patients aren't acting rashly, doctor record-keeping, and a mandated second opinion to ensure against misdiagnosis. None of which seem overly burdensome, and instead are just simple protections against, yes, rash decisions and coercion.

I recalled and read all of this as Stephen McDonald, the New York City police officer who was paralyzed after being shot and left for dead 30 years ago in Central Park, was being laid to rest. McDonald later forgave the teenager who shot him, and in speaking about his life post-injury, he was often open about the fact that during some early days, he didn't want to live. He contemplated suicide, so seriously at one point that his wife called someone who had become a close family friend, then-Cardinal John O'Connor, who spent the day with them both, ministering to them in fatherly love. That's what McDonald needed: Support and friends to walk the road with him and his family. He didn't want to be a burden to his loved ones. And at certain moments, it was hard to see how God was using him for good, for great inspiration.

Since the birth of his son, now a police officer, McDonald's message had been forgiveness. He would later explain: "I needed healing -- badly -- and found out that the only way forward was with love. And I learned that one of the most beautiful expressions of love is forgiving. I know that will sound illogical or impossible to some. Others will find it downright ridiculous. But I'm talking as one who has lived through this."

At a time when there is so much violence and anger, especially on city streets, especially having to do with police, what better message could we hear? And we never would have heard it had McDonald decided to end his life. Maybe from a new perch, he can help us see a way to embrace life in all its challenges and beauty. He sure showed us how here on Earth.

Email Kathryn Jean Lopez at

© 2017, Universal

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