Jesuit Priest Blesses Gay Man Just Before His Assisted Suicide

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 27, 2019   

Abp. Terrence Prendergast: 'We cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do'

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SEATTLE (ChurchMilitant.com) - Days before a Seattle man planned to marry his same-sex partner and kill himself, a Jesuit priest led the entire parish in a final blessing of him.

After a diagnosis of cancer in 2018 and one round of chemotherapy, Robert Fuller picked May 10, 2019, as the day he was going to die and began planning a party where he would marry his same-sex partner then kill himself.

An Associated Press report chronicling his last days quoted Fuller as saying, "Why should I suffer? I'm totally at peace with this." 

Fuller also said he wanted to be an example of how assisted suicide works to others around the country. 

Image
Fr. Quentin Dupont with Fr. James Martin

On May 5, the Sunday before Fuller died, he attended Mass and received Holy Communion at St. Therese Catholic Church in Seattle. Jesuit priest Fr. Quentin Dupont led the parish, including the children who had just received their first Holy Communion, to give Fuller a blessing. 

Father Dupont was ordained in 2014 by the Society of Jesus in California. 

According to the report, "St. Therese Parish was known for accommodating a range of beliefs" and "Fuller's decision was widely known and accepted among the parishioners." 

Saint Therese's choir director, Kent Stevenson, explained, "It was hard to even cry because he was so forthcoming and so sober about it." 

Stevenson said Fuller was a lector during Mass and sometimes delivered insightful or funny remarks off the cuff after the Scripture readings. 

Fuller was surrounded by friends and family when he injected a cocktail of lethal medications and Kahlua, his favorite drink, into his own abdomen later that day. 

Church Militant reached out to the archdiocese of Seattle, and Abp. J. Peter Sartain, ordinary of the archdiocese, and Abp. Paul Etienne, coadjutor bishop, responded with a statement on the sanctity of life denying that Dupont had been aware of the impending suicide, in spite of evidence that it was widely known at the parish.

"The Associated Press story about Mr. Fuller is of great concern to the Archbishops because it may cause confusion among Catholics and others who share our reverence for human life," the statement began.

The Catholic Church does not support suicide in any form, including medically assisted suicide.

"That morning, the priest in the photograph was told Mr. Fuller was dying and wanted the blessing of the faith community," the statement continued. "When these plans were made known, the pastor met with Mr. Fuller to discuss the sacred gift of human life and how we are called to respect and revere that gift as disciples of Jesus."

The archbishops clarified that "all life is a gift from God" made in the image and likeness of God: "This is why we protect and promote the sanctity of life in all of its stages."

"Based on this teaching and concerns for human life and the common good, the Catholic Church does not support suicide in any form, including medically assisted suicide," they concluded. 

Church Militant reached out to Fr. Dupont at St. Therese parish and Fr. Scott Santarosa, the Jesuit provincial of the West region, but have not heard back by press time.

Death With Dignity Act

Washington state passed the Washington Death With Dignity Act on Nov. 4, 2008. The law allows terminally ill adults with less than six months left to live to request lethal doses of medication to end their lives. 

Since 2009, when the Death with Dignity Act took effect, 1,622 people have died at their own hands. Following the trend in other states and countries, the number of people requesting lethal drugs increases annually.

In 2018, on average, 21 people have killed themselves each month. 

The reasons given for their choice to end their lives were primarily the loss of autonomy, being less able to engage in activities to make life enjoyable and the loss of dignity. A little over half of those who ended their lives were concerned with being a burden to others. 

Washington law also forbids coroners from listing the cause of death as a suicide and requires they instead list the death as from natural causes.

Gail Churchill, a Canadian investigative coroner whom Church Militant interviewed, raised a number of concerns with that practice: "They've built in a concealing and a prejudice."

She explained that vital statistics will be skewed and, with wider acceptance, health care could be denied to those who want it. 

"When they make it so normal and natural, even on paper, it's going to be a little bit easier to advance their agenda," she said.

If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal.

At least two bishops have spoken out publicly against providing last rites for those planning to die by assisted suicide. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, released a statement in 2016 noting that a person who is planning suicide doesn't have the proper disposition needed to receive the sacrament. 

Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation. … But we cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do — like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.

Although he encouraged priests to be present to pray, the person may "turn away from it."

In December 2016, Bp. Vitus Huonder of Chur, Switzerland also released a statement instructing priests in his diocese not to administer last rites to those planning on committing assisted suicide.

"The readiness of a suffering patient to commit suicide with help from a bystander places any priest in an impossible situation if called to administer sacraments," he said.

"[F]rom a Christian viewpoint, life and death are in God's hands," he added, "we do not decide about them for ourselves. Suicide, like murder, contradicts the divine world order."

Image

Robert Fuller surrounded by friends at his death
(Courtesy of Elaine Thompson, AP)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraphs 2276 to 2283 regarding euthanasia and suicide state clearly that it is "morally unacceptable" to put an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons either by administering lethal drugs or withholding medical care. 

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination to preserve and perpetuate life and is "contrary to the love for the living God," the CCC notes. "It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations."

Paragraph 2282 further states: "If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal."

8/27/2019: This article has been updated to include a statement from the archdiocese of Seattle.

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