FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, July 29, 2011 ( – Although framed as compassion, determining end-of-life procedures by evaluating “quality of life” merely discourages vulnerable persons, making them more likely to submit to a hastened death, according to the Catholic bishop of Madison.

“When we start evaluating the quality of somebody else’s life, that means we’re asking them to pull up the hearse. Get the hearse ready,” said Bishop Robert Morlino at a bioethics conference at Christendom College this month.

“So often people want to die because as they see what’s going on around them they see everybody as rather anxious for the hearse, and they figure maybe I’d better get out of everybody’s way.

“If every human person has irreducible, unrepeatable human dignity, then no human life could ever be a burden.”

The Wisconsin bishop criticized the premise, championed by the “right to die” movement, that assisted suicide represents a victory for personal autonomy.

“Why do they feel like a burden? Everyone is telling them how wonderful they are and how precious they are, but that’s not the action … the sick person might hear somebody whisper, ‘What’s the number of that funeral director? – You are so precious!’ Those kinds of things happen,” he said.

While it is still important to analyze critically whether certain treatments should continue, Morlino said family and doctors must never lose sight of the goal to preserve life.

“It is necessary to do what some call a benefits and burdens analysis – and this is the most important word here – a benefits and burdens analysis of treatment. Of medical treatment,” he said.

“We are not called to make the judgment that this life is still worth living or it’s not. That’s not the question.”

Morlino indicated that he had handled several cries for help from families dealing with difficult end-of-life situations. He emphasized that every case is unique, and that therefore the medical situation of each patient must be thoroughly known before making any decision.

But, he said, the most important means of avoiding such end-of-life crises – situations often rife with “confusion and guilt and panic” – is to not wait until the final moments to appreciate someone.

“The first thing to do is to appreciate them long before that moment arrives,” said Morlino, “and to treasure them long before that moment arrives so they needn’t wonder what’s going to happen and what these people around me really have in mind.”


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