At a time when physician assisted suicide is being taken up in a number of state legislatures, Pope John Paul II’s 1984 reflection on the meaning of human suffering can help us understand the issue and articulate an argument against it, both for our own understanding and for support for testimony opposing assisted suicide. Ending the suffering caused by illness is often the reason given in support of assisted suicide. John Paul, long before his personal experience of degrading illness, articulated the Christian meaning of suffering, which is rooted in our uniting ourselves with the suffering of Christ.
n Part VII, Pope John Paul introduces a reflection on the Good Samaritan, calling on us to stop beside suffering persons and to be present to them and care for them (n. 28). Through this witness of love and human care, we become more fully human and a leaven to society, reducing the coarsening effect on society of the culture of death in its many aspects.
Suffering brings us closer to the mystery of God that we face in the joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows of life. This apostolic letter helps us engage that mystery, and hopefully to understand it ever so slightly as we gaze upon it now indistinctly as in a mirror.