Everyone deserves a birth and a death filled with grace. Death isn’t exactly the most comfortable dinner table topic. It is very intimate and personal. Facing the reality of death means confronting the possibility of suffering, pain, isolation and fear.
Centura Health — a ministry of the Roman Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist churches — is facing a direct court challenge to our long-standing mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ in the Colorado End-Of-Life Options Act. This dialogue around death and suffering directly intersects with two even more uncomfortable topics — religion and politics.
Most churches and faith traditions — Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity — have common formal positions and/or basic teachings about this legal, cultural, and spiritual issue. Every human life is sacred. All humans deserve dignity and respect. There is a divine law that transcends human law.
Our ministries throughout Colorado and western Kansas are communities of respect, love, and support for patients and their families at every stage of life, including when they are facing suffering and the reality of death. We recognize that our views might not be shared by others. For our organization, physician-assisted suicide is morally unacceptable, and we will not participate in it.
The End-Of-Life Options Act, voted into law in November 2016, permits health care providers to opt out. Many Colorado hospitals and physicians have opted out of the act rooted in their own morals and values along with the Hippocratic tradition to do no harm. We believe that the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment firmly support Centura Health’s decision to opt out. We are asking the court for clarity so that the law works for those individuals and organizations who choose to opt out based on religious beliefs.
To align behaviors and actions with our mission and core values, we ask all our caregivers to agree to abide by a code of conduct. For our physician partners, we ask them to agree in a written, legal agreement to a similar code which, for our Catholic facilities, includes not providing services “that are in violation of the ethical and religious directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” including any intentional hastening of a person’s natural death.
There has been very little conversation in all this about the patient, Cornelius Mahoney. There are no adequate words to express how sorry we are and the sadness we feel for Mahoney with his terminal diagnosis. We so wish that he and his family were not facing this frustrating challenge.
We would be truly honored to walk with Mahoney in his journey by fully supporting him with treatment as well as palliative, comfort, pain and hospice care in the Christian tradition.
Centura Health’s founding mothers and fathers handed down to us an enduring mission, core values, and religious foundation over the course of 137 years. We will not compromise who we are and the founding ideals we stand upon today. We are always here for you.
Peter D. Banko is president and CEO of Centura Health.