Seattle bishops affirm sanctity of life after AP story on assisted suicide

SEATTLE – The bishops of the Archdiocese of Seattle issued a statement August 27 affirming the sanctity of life and reiterating the Catholic Church’s opposition to assisted suicide, in response to an Associated Press story about a Seattle man, Robert Fuller, who used a fatal drug combination to end his own life May 10 under Washington state’s Death With Dignity Act.

The article ran on the front page of Tuesday’s Seattle Times.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Fuller and to all those who suffer chronic and or terminal illness,” the bishops wrote. “As Catholics, we always strive to be present to those who suffer and to those who are facing death.”

The bishops said the article “is of great concern to [Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Coadjutor Archbishop Paul Etienne] because it may cause confusion among Catholics and others who share our reverence for human life.”

The article includes a photo of Fuller receiving a blessing at St. Therese Parish in Seattle a few days before his death and asserts that “Fuller’s decision [to end his life] was widely known and accepted among the parishioners.”

“At the time of this photo, parish leadership was not aware of Mr. Fuller’s intentions,” the bishops’ statement explained. “That morning, the priest in the photograph [Jesuit Father Quentin Dupont] was told Mr. Fuller was dying and wanted the blessing of the faith community. It wasn’t until later that parish leaders learned of his plans. When these plans were made known, the pastor [Father Maurice Mamba] 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 bishops’ statement continues: “Catholics believe that all life is a gift from God. Every person has inherent and inalienable dignity because we are made in God's image and likeness. This is why we protect and promote the sanctity of life in all of its stages. Based on this teaching and concern for human life and the common good, the Catholic Church does not support suicide in any form, including medically assisted suicide.”

UPDATE (8/29/19): The archdiocese has released an additional statement

“The Associated Press news story naturally leads the reader to assume certain things about the priest and his intentions. However, we are learning a very different reality was at work. We looked into this and can confirm that the priest who did the blessing did not know about Mr. Fuller’s intentions. The priest was a visiting priest who happened to be at St. Therese that particular Sunday when the pastor was celebrating Mass at his second parish. The blessing was done after Mass by the priest whose interest was to bring comfort to someone he learned was dying. The priest was not aware of any news photographer, although he was aware people were taking pictures.

“While it is clear that some of Mr. Fuller’s friends at the parish knew of his intentions, the pastor at St. Therese initially did not. Mr. Fuller eventually approached the pastor to ask to plan his own funeral. The pastor discussed the gift of life and tried to convince him to change his mind. He made it clear that neither he nor the parish could support his plan to take his own life. Once it was clear that Mr. Fuller was not going to change his mind, the pastor reached out to his leadership to discuss the situation.

“Archbishop Sartain agreed that it is the church’s responsibility to pastorally care for those who mourn. With this in mind, he gave permission for the funeral with certain conditions to ensure there was no endorsement or other perceived support for the way in which Mr. Fuller ended his life. The purpose of the funeral was to pray for his soul and bring comfort and consolation to those who mourned.”

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.