by Hilary White

TORONTO, September 19, 2006 ( –“The March of the Religious Right – Where Does it Lead?” was the first major talk offered at the international “Challenge in Choice” conference of euthanasia advocates held in Toronto September 7th to 10th.

The talk featured Robert Raben, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, and a major figure in the US Democratic party and Jon Eisenberg, an attorney and author of the book, “Using Terri.”

Raben, a political organizer and strategist for the Democrats, offered insight into the strategy of the Right to Die movement and emphasized that the religious right, particularly the Catholic Church, was their most powerful foe.

Raben told attendees that in the California fight for legalization of euthanasia, in a poll taken of 14,000 Californians, a single group only: “regular Mass-attending Catholics” were significantly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Jon Eisenberg said it is crucial for the movement to identify Christian and other religious leaders who supported euthanasia. He singled out Catholic priest and medical ethicist, Fr. Kevin O’Rourke for praise, saying the priest had provided the movement with the arguments from Catholic ethics that defused Catholic opposition to the killing of Terri Schiavo.

O’Rourke, a member of the Dominican order and an expert in Catholic medical ethics, has for decades been a leading Catholic apologist for the killing of patients by starvation and dehydration. In January 2004, he spoke in Toronto at a meeting of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute at the University of Toronto defending the acceptance, even at Catholic hospitals, of withdrawing nutrition and hydration from non-terminal cognitively disabled patients.

Pro-life observers at the conference noted that several speakersÂexhibited personal hatred for the Catholic ChurchÂusing expletives whenever mentioning the Church.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of Britain’s Dignity in Dying, was particularly scathing in her criticism of the Catholic opposition to euthanasia. Annetts was, with Lord Joel Joffe, the co-author of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill that was recently before the British House of Lords.

Annetts told conferees that the English bishops opposing the legalization of euthanasia were “just like the Taliban.”“We will never have the same money (as the Catholic Church) so we need to use our brains,” she said.

George Felos, the legal counsel for Michael Schiavo, excoriated the faithful Christians who opposed their efforts to have Michael’s wife, Terri dehydrated to death. He told the conference that the Schiavo case was “highjacked” by the pro-life movement and the religious right.

Though Felos admitted that Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, believed their daughter could recover, he believed they had been used as part of an agenda to overturn the Supreme Court abortion ruling, Roe vs. Wade.

Felos praised Canada as a more “progressive” country on Right to Die issues, and said that their cause has a better chance of succeeding here than in the US where Christians have more political sway.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director, Alex Schadenberg noted, “The Right to Die movement views Christian opponents to euthanasia not simply as a group of people who have a differing point of view but as the enemy.”

Schadenberg said that although the so-called ‘religious right’ was mentioned, and the evangelical Christians, especially in the US, oppose euthanasia, it is the Catholic Church that is particularly singled out for the venom of Right to Die advocates.

“Even with the weakness of the response of some prominent Catholic leaders in the US, to Terri Schiavo’s plight,” Schadenberg said, “the Catholic opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide is still the most powerful and feared force in the debate. It is the best thought-out and most comprehensive position against assisted dying.”

Schadenberg told that in his opinion, the fear and hatred of the Right to Die movement for the Catholic defense of the sanctity of human life is the greatest indication of its effectiveness.

He said, “The Church [must] not fall into the trap of trying to moderate their message to make it more palatable to euthanasia supporters. By speaking the truth, the Church has already been effective enough to make them hate it.”

Against the tendency of some churchmen to attempt to water down the Catholic Church’s position on euthanasia and assisted suicide, Schadenberg warns, “If the Church were to moderate its message in order to make itself more popular in the world, it will lose the entire battle. Opposing them means they hate you; it’s just something we have to face and the Catholic opposition has been the strongest and best thought out, the hardest to refute or subvert.”

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