During the last two years, there have been increased efforts in Canada and United States to gain acceptance of assisted suicide or euthanasia’ for the terminally ill who re-quest it. These developments have far reaching ethical implications for human life, dignity and solidarity. It is a cruel irony that “death with dignity,” a respect for life phrase, has been taken over to justify killing.
We can all sympathize with the suffering of a dying patient or one who has been told an illness is terminal. The pain of separation from loved ones, the fears of over treatment and dependency, and the anxiety about what is to come or the unknown are so human. The circumstances of those who live with terminal diseases and those who are in the dying process are deeply personal and complex. They call for a most profound response. As Church, as families, as communities and as a society we must offer something more than death.
Providing the dying person with the utmost personal attention, the best palliative care, and the best pain control that modern medicine can offer are all components of what should be meant by “death with dignity.” This also involves the greatest respect and care for the dying person’s human needs – emotional, physical, social and spiritual. It is recognizing that dying persons and those around them can experience great moments of healing and reconciliation. The medical profession “ought to neglect no means of making all their skill available to the sick and dying; but they should remember how much more necessary it is to provide them with the comfort of boundless kindness and heartfelt charity.”
As Christians and people of faith, we believe that life is a gift of God’s love and goodness. God does not give us absolute dominion over the gift of life. We are stewards, not owners, of life. Consequently, the time and circumstances of our death are not ours to choose.
Even though we greatly value life, we do not consider physical life to be an absolute value that must be preserved at all costs. Death is not an evil nor a defeat but part of the human condition. Church teaching recognizes that death is “unavoidable” and that, without intending to hasten death, we “should be able to accept it with full responsibility and dignity.”
Medical treatment that is futile or extraordinary methods that only prolong the dying process are not required. The withholding or withdrawing of burdensome or disproportionate treatment is not assisted suicide or euthanasia. Allowing to die is not the same as making a person die. In addition, patients “in the final phase of terminal illness may request and be given whatever analgesics are required to lessen their pain and suffering, even if such analgesics, though not intentionally could shorten life.”
Initiatives for assisted suicide or euthanasia find some support in our culture because of the value that is given to individual freedom and personal autonomy. These important
principles, however, cannot justify the taking of human life. Historically, the protection of human life has long been the fundamental value of our society. The killing of another person even with that person’s consent, is a very public matter. To accept killing as a private matter of individual choice is to diminish respect for human life, dull our consciences and dehumanize society.
The potential consequences of decriminalizing assisted suicide or legalizing euthanasia are far reaching. Will the right to kill be followed by the duty to kill? Will the right to die be followed by the duty to die? Will the chronically ill, the infirm, the elderly and others who have physical or mental limitationsbe encouraged to end their suffering? Will voluntary death become involuntary? Will the trust between the caregiver and the patient be eradicated? Will killing replace healing?
Furthermore, consideration must be given to the conflict between the self interest of the individual and the common good of society. Individual situations are tragic and compelling
morality. It has profound implications for society because how we treat the dying affects how we treat the living.
Everyone needs to be more tender, more compassionate, and more caring for both living and dying. As society and as Church, we can do much more to support those who are suffering. We call on everyone in the Catholic community, as followers of Jesus Christ who cared for the sick and the dying, to reach out with their hearts and to help those who are close to them.
- “Euthanasia” in this statement means “An action or omission of an action which of itself or intention causes death in order that all suffering may be eliminated.”(Catholic Health Association of Canada, Health Care Ethics Guide 1991).
- Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, 1080.
- Declaration on Euthanasia.
- Catholic Health Association of Canada, Health Care Ethics Guide, 1991, No. 86.
THE MONTH IN REVIEW
Nobody Dare Protest
The self-proclaimed “party of the people” is at it again. You have to hand it to the hard-working representatives at Ontario’s Queen’s Park. Francis Lankin, not content with fouling up the Ministry of Health, has decided to move on to the portfolio of Public Order, Censorship and Thought Control. Lankin has vowed to act quickly on Dec. 18 report recommending a province-wide gag on pro-life freedom of speech and calling for even more abortions, especially for poor, minority and disadvantaged women.
Death Count Reaches Eight
“He’s more like a serial killer than a physician,” says Professor George Annas, of the Boston University’s school of medicine, referring to “Dr.” Jack Kevorkian. Dr. Death put two more notches in his belt Dec. 15 when his seventh and eighth victims died at their home in Auburn Hills Michigan. Since all his victims have been women it should be only a matter of time before the American feminist movement considers getting involved. After all, it’s one thing to be murderer and quite another to be a misogynist.
A Dying Cause
The Right to Die Society is one heartbeat away from extinction. In his decision Dec. 29, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Allen Melvin denied Sue Rodriguez the right to a physician’s help to kill herself. He said assisted suicide is not sanctioned by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Betty Green, a director of the Pro-Life Society of B.C., said her group will seek intervenor status when the appeal goes ahead Feb.15. If John Hofsess really believes in mercy killing and not prolonging the agony, maybe it is time for him to throw in the towel.
Catholic Insight’s First Issue
The much anticipated first issue of Catholic Insight hit the stands in January. Editor Fr. Alphonse DeValk has vowed to bring the same determination, hard work and integrity to the Catholic Insight as he did during his stay as Interim editor. He has vowed to make this hard-hitting journal a thorn in the sides of foes of the Catholic Church both from inside and outside its ranks.
Taking The Parent Out Of Parenting
B.C. Parents are waking up to the repurcussions of their province’s infants Act. Under the new legislation which came into effect Jan.1, children under the age of 19 can agree to any medical procedure independent of their parents wishes. This means children can
now agree to anything from abortions to cosmetic surgery. The legislation has received royal assent and concerned parents will have to wait until a new government takes over the NDP before they try to change the legislation.
Kormos Pickets Kormos?
Former cabinet minister/Sunshine Boy Peter Kormos picked up a sign and joined pro-lifers in pickketing the Ontario NDP party at his constituency office in Welland. It was one of the many pickets that occurred outside NDP riding offices on January 9. The event received media attention in small towns due to the great turnout across the province.
Is There A Doctor In The House?
On January 16, pro-life doctors from across southern Ontario met with one of Canada’s leading obstetricians, Dr. Bob Walley. The purpose of their downtown Toronto meeting was to discuss the feasibility of a Toronto pro-life maternal health care centre. The proposed centre is a response to the decrease in quality and availability of motherhood services in Toronto.