I know of the Vatican Declaration on Abortion.  Is there one on euthanasia?  L.P., Belleville, ON.

The Declaration on Euthanasia was prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and published in May 1980.  It is very short, but it is invaluable.

I have used one paragraph to provide the answers to three questions from many people.  (Editor: See centre pages for further reference)

Is mercy killing ever justified?

Answer:  “It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying.”

Could a person morally accept the responsibility of a power of attorney or ‘living will’ if there were any suggestion of assisted suicide or euthanasia?

Answer:  “Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing either for himself or herself of for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly.”

Has a government the moral right to legalize euthanasia?  Can a Catholic politician vote for it?

Answer:  “Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.  For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.”

No one asked whether the Supreme Court of Canada could legitimately permit euthanasia, but the answer is clear.  No, it cannot.  Euthanasia violates the law of God.

The Declaration on Euthanasia is available from the Life Ethics Centre, 53 Dundas St. E., Ste. 306, Toronto, ON, M5B 1C6

Doctors, talking about the seriously ill, speak of ‘grey areas.’  What do they mean?  L.P., Windsor, Ont.

Normally a good doctor knows exactly how he can, or cannot, treat a patient in conformity with medical ethics.

However, there are many cases of such complexity and with such conflicting values that a clear-cut decision is not easy.  Things are no longer black and white, and in this grey area there are doubts about how ethical principles should be applied.  In such cases any decisions must be made by the doctor and his patient – or those who speak for the patient – in the light of current medical knowledge and moral obligations; in other words, in the best judgment of the doctor.

In the case of a terminal illness is it morally justified to give painkillers if thereby you shorten the patient’s life?

Again, I refer you to the Declaration on Euthanasia.  In 1957, a group of doctors asked Pope Pius XII; “Is the suppression of pain and consciousness by the use of narcotics…permitted by religion and morality to the doctor and patient (even at the approach of death and if one foresees that the use of narcotics will shorten life?)”

The Pope replied: “If no other means exist, and if, in the given circumstances, this does not prevent the carrying out of other religious and moral duties: Yes.”

In this case death is not intended.  The intention is clearly to relieve pain by using painkillers as medicine.  There is no intention of shortening life, though that risk may exist.

You have spoken in praise of hospice care I England.  Is your opinion based on what you’ve read, or do you really know?  J.W., Toronto

I suppose the answer is “Both.”  But, yes, I do know personally.  In recent months, members of my family and life-long friends have experienced the loving care of hospices.

Pain is kept at bay and families are able to enjoy their last days together.

A recent letter from England told me of another dimension of hospice care, namely continuing care for a lonely survivor.  The husband of a friend we have known from childhood died six months ago in a hospice in Devon.  Her only family–distant relations– live far away.  Since her husband’s death the nurses and staff at the hospice have taken time and trouble to ensure that she is well, and not too lonely.  This is a service they promised to a dying man who was concerned that his wife would be all alone.

Money cannot but this kind of love and service.