MORALS AND BIOETHICS
Can mercy killing be condoned?
Euthanasia is gaining ground; from day to day, it becomes more widely debated.
For example, in September 1984, an international congress was held on the theme: "Choosing One's Life, Choosing One's Death.".
The proportion of elderly people in North America keeps growing; it will soon be 12% of the entire population, comprised mainly of women. There will be 700 000 more Canadian women over 65 years of age than men. Many wonder if there will be enough money available to care for such an aging population. There is a similar problem in the United States.
What should our attitude be toward euthanasia that confronts so many of our aged? First, we are and must remain Christians. We believe in the sacred nature of life as a gift from God. God alone is the Master of life. Our attitude toward euthanasia, as in the case of abortion, cannot be inspired by a society that discards some essential values of human life.
Euthanasia (or mercy killing or painless death) concerns not only old people, but also abnormal children, and the incurably ill and the mentally ill. We are all concerned about recent criminal actions brought to the tribunals.
On May 5, 1980, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith firmly stood against euthanasia as being a murderous act.
John Paul II opposes a culture that rejects the supernatural by "appraising human life only according to money and pleasure", a culture that deems suffering essentially evil. He urges us to discover "the authentic Christian viewpoint on life, suffering and death".
Suffering has a role to play in God's plan of salvation, which unites us to the suffering Christ. But, there is nothing wrong with alleviating pain by means of painkillers and sedatives, even if they eventually shorten life. Pius XII approved this practice. The direct intention in this case is not to commit homicide or suicide.
One is not obliged to use disproportionate or extraordinary means in order to prolong life, considering especially the extent to which modern science can go. Would not such means be merely prolonging death? Therefore, it suffices to use ordinary means of therapy, without doggedly striving to exhaust its possibilities. After all, yielding to death does not mean causing it.
As the German Bishops stated, active euthanasia is not help given to the dying, but deliberate killing. "Thou shalt not kill" is applicable to all the phases of human life.
It is clear that a distinction must be made between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia directly provokes death by an artificial intervention, like the injection of a lethal fluid solution; passive euthanasia just allows the dying to die naturally by ceasing treatment, by disconnecting devices, etc. Of course, the distinction is sometimes difficult to establish and one must be wary of it. In any case, the intention of the action or omission is paramount.
One day, euthanasia and assisted suicide might be legalized as was abortion. It is a possibility. Many promote active or direct euthanasia. People will, as they say, look forward to "dying with dignity", but once more, God's plan will have been discarded.
As for us, keeping in mind the Christian and ethical principles will help us avoid serious errors when solving delicate cases. Is resuscitation always advisable in a case of cardio-pulmonary arrest? Should the doctor alone make the decision? Does a lucid patient have any say in this directly or through a written will? What is the responsibility of the patient's family? David J. Roy, a leading figure in bioethics, disagrees with the purely professional approach.
Let us hope that palliative treatment of terminally ill patients will continue to improve in order to provide better comfort for them and their families. Christian charity is deeply concerned with these decisive hours of life.
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