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Cardinal speaks out against assisted suicide at Red Mass

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SOUTH END -- Addressing members of the legal profession at the annual Red Mass Sept. 18, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley spoke out against a recently certified initiative petition seeking to legalize physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts.

"It's another attempt to undermine the sacredness of human life. It demands an energetic response from Catholics and other citizens of good will," said Cardinal O'Malley during his homily at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

The Red Mass -- a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages -- is held to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit in guiding members of the legal profession before the beginning of the judicial year. The Mass takes its name from the red vestments traditionally worn by clergy to represent the Holy Spirit.

On Sept. 7, Attorney General Martha Coakley certified an initiative petition supporting the so-called "Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act." The initiative, if passed into law, would allow a terminally-ill adult to end their life by receiving lethal drugs from their physician, which they would self-administer.

If the petition receives around 69,000 signatures of registered voters, it would pass a major milestone on making its way to the fall 2012 ballot.

Though the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops, has issued statements on the ballot initiative petition, this was the cardinal's first public comment on the issue.

"Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, know that suicide is a tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent. They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the medical profession," he said.

He called physician assisted suicide a violation of the Hippocratic Oath and said that by eliminating the legal protection for a category of people, "the government sends a message that some persons are better off dead."

The cardinal also said that many people fear experiencing pain, the loss of control, dementia, being abandoned, or becoming a burden to others toward the end of their lives.

"We as a society will be judged by how we respond to these very real fears. We must devote more attention to those who might feel that their life is diminished in value or meaning. They need the love and care of others to assure them of their inherent worth," said Cardinal O'Malley.

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