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U.S. Bishops Condemn Calfornia Anti-Immigration Law, Euthanasia

By Holly Selby
The Baltimore Sun

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops condemned Thursday California's Proposition 187, which denies health and education benefits to undocumented immigrants, and reaffirmed the Catholic church's position that every person has a right to health care until the moment of death.

However, doctors may give pain medication to a terminally ill person even if it indirectly hastens his death - as long as the sole goal is patient comfort.

At the heart of both actions, is their belief that all people have a basic human right to health care, said the 280 bishops, here on the last day of their semiannual meeting.

Nine days after California voters approved Proposition 187, the bishops endorsed a resolution stating the measure is "a catalyst for divisiveness within our society."

And in a separate action, the bishops issued new guidelines aimed at bishops and administrators responsible for the 1,200 Catholic health care institutions nationwide who grapple daily with complex issues such as euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

What the bishops say about health care practices has a wide effect: In 1992, nearly 5 million people were treated at hospitals run by the Catholic Church - about 15 percent of all admissions nationwide.

"In cases of considerable moral complexity, the directives reflect the church's teaching while preserving the legitimate freedom which the church provides," said Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, chairman of the Doctrine Committee, which spent six years writing the 48-page document.

The bishops' medical document urges Catholic institutions to distinguish themselves by service to and advocacy for children, the poor, the uninsured, single parents, addicts, minorities, immigrants, refugees and the elderly.

The medical directives for Catholics, which have not been updated since 1971, come one week after Oregon voters approved physician-assisted suicide - something the bishops said will never be morally acceptable.

The church spent more than $600,000 trying to defeat Oregon's ballot Measure 16, which decriminalized physician-assisted suicide. Earlier this week, the bishops approved another $80,000 to be used for opposing euthanasia.

Following traditional church teachings, the directives also rule out medical techniques such as abortion, artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

However, methods such as drugs that enhance fertility and do not "substitute for the marital act itself" may be used, according to the document.

In a new section of the directive, the bishops acknowledged that because of the rapidly changing nature of health care delivery, Catholic hospitals increasingly are working with other, non-Catholic, medical institutions. And these organizations may not follow Catholic teachings.

In response, they developed a "principle of cooperation" that outlines how Catholic hospitals can integrate programs with other organizations without going against Catholic doctrine. And they developed a national committee to help individual bishops decide what to do when faced with such extremely complicated decisions.