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'Thou Shalt Not Kill': The Church Against Assisted Suicide

Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

June 1997

    The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

    Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.


    To help your students understand the political process regarding physician-assisted suicide and develop a stronger sense of compassion toward the seriously ill and the dying.


    To work on the understanding of the political process, you may wish to take on with your students an ambitious project with broad, even school-wide impact. If you can't pursue it this broadly, you can easily scale it back to a class or grade level.

    The author, John Bookser Feister, profiles real people involved in this issue. Your classroom approach can be the same. The Church's role as moral teacher should become clear if your student can see assisted suicide as an issue they can participate in and relate to on a personal level.


    1. Give your class a role in bringing the issue before a wider audience than their own classroom.

    2. Partner with other teachers and students in Religion and Social Justice; English and Journalism; and Government.

    3. Divide student responsibilities into four role categories:

    • advocates who have strong opinions and stances on one side of the issue or the other
    • journalists writing on the objective pros and cons of the issue
    • voters who will cast a ballot on a public referendum or proposition
    • legislators who need to educate themselves before voting on the issue before them.


    The advocates (from Social Justice classes) will form two research teams to gather information on each side of assisted suicide. Students with access to the Internet will find thousands of references to physician-assisted suicide. The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature will, of course, also provide plenty of material.

    The journalists (from English classes) can interview the advocates and the research teams, and do some of their own corroborating research, to write articles on the topic. Perhaps several students can even interview local or regional advocates and report their experiences.

    Legislators (students of Government classes) can identify sources for their own education on the issue. The advocates can also find ways to reach the legislators with their opinions.

    Advocates for physician-assisted suicide will write a proposition to be put before the voters.

    Journalists will report in the school paper, or a class paper, as the project proceeds.

    The class, grade, or as an option, the entire school, can then vote in a mock election, based on the information presented to them.

    Regardless of what scale your project takes, the students should learn or reinforce their critical thinking skills. An increased awareness on the part of the students that they have a serious political role in civic and moral issues is the desired outcome.

    Broader Implications

    Guide them in brainstorming a list of some of the difficult moral issues before our society:

    • abortion
    • euthanasia
    • cloning
    • genetic engineering
    • teen suicide and pregnancy
    • physician-assisted suicide
    • the death penalty
    • violence and disrespect for life
    • AIDS and other diseases
    • substance abuse
    • physical and emotional abuse
    • environmental poisoning

    Teaching teens critical thinking and analytical skills will prepare them for their role as voters and as Christians committed to a better society.


    The author tells us of Father Jim, a priest friend who struggled long and hard to regain physical independence after a serious accident. Ask the students if they can think of anyone they know like Father Jim, perhaps a relative, perhaps someone in the public eye (like Christopher Reeve). Any one of these people might not be alive today if physician-assisted suicide prevailed over compassion.

    Elsewhere in the article, Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying (not so many years ago!), “I solve social problems by eliminating the people who cause them.”

    A Personal Approach

    To develop in your students a stronger sense of compassion, you can focus on the writings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the famous psychiatrist known for her work with dying patients. Of special value is Death Is Of Vital Importance, a collection of some of her lectures.

    Assign reports based on the patient stories in this book, others by Kubler-Ross, or any book with personal experiences of the sick and dying.

    Ask each student to write and present one patient’s story. Identify each patient by name and list them on a flipchart or the blackboard.

    After each presentation, ask the students to write a few words summarizing their impressions of the patient and any others involved in the story.

    Can you now guide the students in identifying problems characteristic of the hopelessly ill and dying? How about the difficulties their caregivers face? In small groups ask the teens to suggest simple, practical steps the dying person or the caregiver can take to make what they face a bit easier. For example, a caregiver could have someone else come in to read to the patient every day, or play music for them.

    Compare physician-assisted suicide with the seeming romanticism of teen suicide pacts as a solution to life's disappointments, as covered so prevalently in media and music.

    The goal is a more developed sense of compassion, an appreciation for turning obstacles into opportunities for love.


    Death Is Of Vital Importance, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Station Hill Press, Barrytown, New York, 1995. A collection of lectures given between 1976 and 1989.

    On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1969. Her signature work on dying.

    How It Feels to Live With a Physical Disability, Jill Krementz, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1992. Although not directly related to the topic, it profiles a number of disabled children and teens who live with courage and dignity.

    Time magazine, April 28, 1997, “The Case for Morphine,” discussing pain management for the dying.

    Rod Stewart’s rock album, Vagabond Heart, has two songs helpful to the topic: “If Only,” on the importance of not living a life full of regrets, and “No Holding Back,” about taking a chance on loving another rather than not loving at all. While some of Stewart’s lyrics are not supportive of Christian values, these two songs may trigger some useful discussion.

    Research Resources

    Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

    The New York Times

    The Los Angeles Times

    Time Magazine



    Pathfinder - Access site to a number of online news publications

    The Associated Press

    The Chicago Tribune

    People magazine

    The History Channel

    The Miami Herald

    The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

    ABC News

    Channel One’s online resource

    The Vatican

    Links Disclaimer:

    The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

    These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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