My dad is 86, my mom recently died, and he has cancer. Lately he talks about wishing he had a pill to end it or going to Oregon for assisted suicide. He says these things in passing, but It’s not a joke, so at some level he is considering it. He is an athiest, and not baptised. When he tells me these things, I say “I’m really glad you’re here. I love you and I want you around!” My question is, if he starts to seriously consider this to what extend am I morally obligated to go to stop him from committing suicide? I mean of course I would call 911 if he attempted, but if he wanted to go to Oregon, do I rip up his plane ticket or what? He is of sound mind (no dementia or cognative problems), and he is in pretty good physical condition, but is obviously depressed. I am working on get him into therapy but he’s reluctant. I love my dad so much. He’s pretty much my best friend, and I don’t want him to die, but I have to confess, I don’t understand the Church’s stance on suicide. I don’t want my dad to suffer. Anyway, I’m willing to obey the Church’s teachings, but I’m not sure what they are in this situation.
The things you are doing for him are all that you can do.
No, you do not need to rip up a plane ticket to Oregon or throw yourself in front of his car or something. These things will not stop him.
Your love and constant reassurance that you are there for him might. I am sure he is grieving and also afraid of what is to come with his cancer.
Suffering is difficult to understand apart from the Gospel.
constantconvert, you say “He is of sound mind (no dementia or cognative problems), and he is in pretty good physical condition, but is obviously depressed.”
But if he is obviously depressed, then he is not “of sound mind.” By definition. Rather, he needs medical/psychiatric help. Please help him find a good Catholic doctor or psychiatrist who will help him with his depression. There are medications that can help him. Clearly he will and should grieve for his lost spouse. That’s natural and expected. But if he’s making comments about suicide, then he clearly needs help.
About a year ago a colleague of mine confided to me that her ex-husband was dying of cancer, and was considering assisted suicide, too. She still loved him and was very involved in his care. She was also very uncomfortable with the whole idea of assisted suicide, even though her own understanding was somewhat faulty. She really didn’t want him to do it. He had been away from the church for many years. I suggested she make a novena to St. Therese, asking her to intercede for her ex-husband. She did. I also told her I would pray for him, and occasionally inquired how he was doing. Eventually he reached a point where he decided against the assisted suicide. I suggested she ask him if he would like to see a priest. He said yes. She arranged for the closest priest to come to him, and he went to confession and was reconciled with God and the Church. He died less than a week later. She, too, is now on a journey to return to the faith.
My point is that even hardened sinners who have been away from the Church for a long time can be converted as they approach death. They need someone with faith to help them, with prayer, sacrifice, and action, and to give them occasional nudges in the right direction. They need hope, and of course, they need to see a priest, but don’t realize it. Don’t be shy about suggesting this to him. If he’s not baptized, gently ask him from time to time if he would consider it. And if so, don’t delay!
I have a friend who has had Parkinson’s disease for many years. He also has cancer. He had been away from the Church for over 40 years! Over time I gently and occasionally brought up the idea of God’s mercy and eventually I asked him if he would like to see a priest and go to confession. He said yes, and I arranged for my pastor to come and hear his confession. The devil tried to put up obstacles, and he needed to be nudged a little more at the end, but he did go, and after 40 years of being away, he now knows the peace and joy of living in friendship with the Lord. He’s ready for what comes.
But this doesn’t happen on its own. You need to be an apostle for him. First an apostle of prayer and sacrifice, and then an apostle of action. Trust that God can reach him. Since he’s an atheist, tell him to say this simple prayer: God, if you exist, please come and get me.
And help him get the medical/psychiatric help he needs for his depression.
What an inspiring sharing…thank you so much!
As a priest, I confess that I am horrified when I read a post, like yours, that veritably cries out as needing to be discussed by the one posting with a priest in person…and specifically their own parish priest.
You have lost your mother. Your father is 86 and in the condition that you relate. You need your pastor and perhaps direction to other pastoral services of the parish and the diocese. You have more than enough reasons to make a claim on his time.
Asking a complex question of moral theology in a forum which demonstrates very very little presence of either priests or theologians is not taking the matter where you need to.
I read, with consternation, when I have asked this question before, answers like “Father is busy.” Well, yes, we are busy. But, unless we have lost our minds, we have the sense of priorities.
I may be in the midst of complying with a diocesan audit or preparing all the records and the physical facilities and so forth for an examination by the bishop, with a deadline, but if the phone rings and a parishioner is at hospital and is dying, I would leave aside the other (without looking back) in order to go provide pastoral care to the dying.
If the phone, on the other hand, rings asking me to bless the garden statue of Our Lady newly installed at a parishioner’s house a long drive away, I would ask to do it after the bishop’s visit. We have a sense of proportion in our responses.
And if everything isn’t just so for the bishop’s visit, I would simply say “You know…I couldn’t get to it because X and Y, whom you remember from your last visit, had emergencies and I had to tend each of them in hospital.”
Your pastor, or a priest he may refer you to who specialises in for example hospice ministry or ministry to the grieved, are not only the best qualified to help you…they are there wherever you are and can pastorally accompany you in the midst of this situation.
Don’t be hesitant to ask for the pastoral care you are in need of.
Personally, I would be very upset if a parishioner were in your situations but felt that they could not approach me for some reason. We are there to provide pastoral care – above all to those who are in greatest need. The diocesan audit will keep, I can assure you.
Don Ruggero - I wish you could be cloned!
In addition to the advice above, please find time to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. If a priest by the nature of his vocation desires to be the shepherd in times like this, how much more the Good Shepherd from whom all priest derive their office. Don’t ask us. Ask Him. Talk to your priest.
Now for the general message. Death is something we should always prepare for. “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gains wisdom of the heart.” There are a lot of “training manuals” out there. My own go-to is Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense out of Suffering. It was a life-changer for me, but that is just me. If you are a doctor, you should keep up with medical journals. If you are a physicist, you should keep current of new discoveries. We are all mortal. We need to keep current with what this condition means to us, and will mean in the future.
I suspect that because he loves you and understands your moral stance that he won’t put you in such a situation. In the meantime, you’re doing all you can, as one other person replied. I’ll pray for you.