Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Fifth Commandment: The slippery slope of euthanasia

Is this God's decision? (from
“On the morning of February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Canada now joins a small, elite group of madly progressive countries in abandoning the most fundamental principle in all of nature.” Joe Bissonette, "Physician-assisted suicide and spiritual suicide" (Crisis Magazine)
 "He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death, and whether him liketh shall be given him."Sirach 15:16,17 (KJV)
 "Sometime in the 23rd century...the survivors of war, 
overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domedcity, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. 
Here in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only
for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide 
everything. There's just one catch. Life must end at thirty 
unless reborn in the fiery ritual of carousel.  "Introduction to Logan's Run (the movie)

 Those of you of a certain age (55+) might remember the movie Logan's Run,  about a dystopic society that maintains equilibrium between population and resources by the simple expedient of killing anyone who reaches the age of 30.    I was reminded of this after reading a fine post, The Obligation to Die,  by Ben Butera, of the blog "Two Catholic Men and a Blog".    I will use much of his post, but I urge the reader to go to the original.     And then  I will show that Ben's projection is realistic by looking at some statistics for euthanasia in the Netherlands, where it has reached an advanced stage.


In his post Ben lists the following four stages for instituting governmental sponsorship and control of euthanasia:
"STAGE 1: Voluntary – Passive(Completely voluntary, but not applauded)...doctors may now lawfully help competent adults to kill themselves if they are terminally ill. Certainly, no one would be forced to do it, because that would be unthinkable. There should be no coercion either, since it’s such a personal choice between patients and their doctor.
"STAGE 2: Voluntary – Active (Completely voluntary and encouraged)...We need to think of what is best, not only for ourselves, but for our immediate families and the common good of society. ... we have an obligation to encourage what is “right” and promote the common welfare. The “right to die” can now slowly morph into the 'obligation to die'....Persistent pressure to do the “right thing” will break the will to live.
 "STAGE 3: Mandatory – Passive (Mostly voluntary with SOME EXCEPTIONS [emphasis added]) ...As our population rapidly ages and the health care costs consume ever larger proportions of government budgets, at least some legislation must be considered to help reduce the source of rising healthcare cost. Laws to guide the old and terminally ill through their final stage of life and their final obligation to the society just makes sense.
"STAGE 4: Mandatory – Active (Mostly required with some exceptions)  Physician assisted suicide need not be limited to only desperate pain. The very old, very sick and severely physically or mentally handicapped should all be considered for legal and mandatory euthanization once the quality of life has been properly assessed by professionals...Why allow these poor people to suffer for no reason, even if they choose to suffer?  ...Those in favor of such legislation will be called progressively “pro-health”. Those opposed will be said to have radical “anti-health” agenda."

Frightening, isn't it, especially for those of us over the Biblical allotted span of fourscore and ten?  Ben shows how morphing from rare and voluntary to usual and mandatory would take place.  As in abortion, Orwellian doublethink will be used to mask the moral shame: just as  "for killing the unborn" read "pro-choice", so "for compulsory killing of the 'unfit'" read "pro-health".


We have a crystal ball to see how Ben's forecast might work out in reality:  the story of euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium.   (I should note that three states--Oregon, Vermont and Washington--have laws that physician-assisted suicide is legal, corresponding to Stage 1, above.)   

A physician-assisted suicide was approved by a Netherlands judge in 1984 and legislation enacted in 2001 and 2002 that would approve physician-assisted suicide generally in the Netherlands.  Would these Dutch legislators have foreseen that in 2013 a 47 year old woman (with two adolescent sons)  would request and receive physician-assisted suicide because she could not live with tinnitus (ringing in the ears)?  (The clinic was reprimanded for being "careless" in not exploring other medical solutions!)

Statistics about euthanasia in The Netherlands and Belgium are truly frightening to those of us who hold that life is sacred and in God's hands.   To spare the reader,  I'll not go into the numbers in detail, but summarize conclusions and give links to original articles.


The position of the Church on euthanasia is clearly spelled out in the Catholic Catechism:

  • "2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable [emphasis added]. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.
  • 2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate [emphasis added]; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
  • 2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable [emphasis added]. "
Not much more need be said, but to emphasize that out of respect for life, we should not put to end the lives of the handicapped (whatever their age), the sick (physically or mentally), or the dying.   Note that the reasoning of "The Double Effect" is applied to "giving painkillers to alleviate the suffering of the dying....if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated."

In this post we have not, near the anniversary of Terry Schiavo's death, specifically considered the right to life of comatose or consciousness-impaired patients.   However, the framework of what we, as Catholics, should do is set forth in articles 2278 and 2279 above.


I don't have an answer to that question.  How about you,  readers?


Nicanor Austriaco, Biomedicine and Beatitude, Bioethics at the End of Life.

NOTE (added after publication).   Ben has another fine post on this subject, The Obligation to Live and Give,  which has a somewhat sunnier view on this topic than I have presented here.   Let's hope he's right!

No comments: