Big Church And The Jackie “O” Shushup by Nancy Littel Fox (April 2000)

This concerns the violent opposition of “Big Church” to Oregon’s Doctor-Assisted Suicide measure. (They lost the first round and somehow cleverly maneuvered a second vote, saying: “Voters don’t understand the issue!”) Catholics (along with Mormons and Fundamentalists), pitched a powerful media assault to squash the measure–billboards, yard signs, talk shows, phone calls, massive mailings to editors–outspending us four to one. This was their four million dollar thrust to bury, once and for all, this “immoral” measure. Despite their cash and clout, however, we clobbered them.

Gutsy Oregon–we did it by 60% to only 40%! Doctor-assisted death-with-dignity became law (with its built-in safeguards against misuse)–a blessing for the terminally ill trapped in an agonizing “neither dead nor alive” situation. To help offset the “religious” onslaught (and I suspect you’ve already guessed where Jackie fits in!), I wrote to all 153 Oregon newspapers, passionate as I was for two reasons. One: my own mother. She died under inhumane circumstances. Two: My years as a geriatric nurse, having worked in nine nursing homes in five states; having personally witnessed countless dragged-out deaths, heard the piercing screams of “Help, will someone help me!” I’d seen patients, all but abandoned by aides, nurses and doctors, wallowing in their own excretions. This, then, is what the church calls “sanctity of life”? This is the “suffering-is-good-for-the-soul” spiel they hand us?

“We” talk “sanctity of life and death.” “They” talk “preservation of still-breathing corpses.” “We” talk “compassion” and the “humane approach.” “They” talk “morality and murder”!

Aware that the Upjohn, Merck, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals have yet to discover more effective medications, the Catholic Church and Co. keeps insisting, tongue-in-cheek, that “Doctors should prescribe more effective medications.” Surely, each of us wants a good, peaceful, painless death, surrounded by our loved ones. This is what Jackie wanted, cursed as she was with a creeping cancer. This noble lady understandably wanted a doctor-assisted death-with-dignity, even though it flew in the face of her church’s teaching. This is what she wanted. This is what she got. But the public must never know. What, then, did Mr. Bunce (spokesman for the Portland Catholic Diocese) do about it? Denials, denials!

This is what he wrote to our local editor, and who knows–to how many other newspapers nationwide–puzzled about her sudden passing; “There is no evidence that Mrs. Onassis ended her life on her own time plan.” Mr. Bunce, there is evidence, solid evidence. Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but . . .

On the day that Jackie died, her son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., spoke to a crowd outside her hospital. His announcement? “Mother died last night. She did it her way, in her own time. For this we can be grateful.” Her son’s words are forever recorded on videotape, aired on the Barbara Walters 20/20 show in July, 1995. But strange! Since then, a media blackout! This, a prize story which normally reporters would pounce upon, like a dog after a bone? “All silencing of discussion” is more than just “an assumption of infallibility.” Here, in Jackie’s case, it is an admission that “something is rotten”–not in Denmark, but in the Diocese of “Everywhere,” U.S.A. Nancy Littel Fox, daughter of a missionary, is a Foundation member from Oregon.

Freedom From Religion Foundation