Apologetic Tract Euthanasia

By 10:33 AM


As Catholics, we believe in the “right to life” not the so called “right to die”. This “right to life” comes from God and is supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States as an inalienable right.  As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of each person and attached to that dignity is the right to life.

The alleged “right to die” is a human response to a human situation.  It is the intentional decision to hasten the death of someone because of the suffering or state of existence they are experiencing.  Examples of this may be a person is suffering from an incurable disease like terminal cancer, or is in a sustained coma because of some trauma.  But it has also gone beyond this to include ending the life of the physically deformed, those who are born with mental disorder like Downs Syndrome, or even the permanently handicapped. The motivation to end another’s life in these situations may flow from misguided and uninformed compassion. This effort is also known as “euthanasia,” “assisted-suicide,” “mercy killing,” or “death with dignity.”

The bottom line is that we do not have a “right to die” (unless naturally) nor to intentionally assist another to end life. This becomes another form of intentional killing or taking one’s own or another’s life, which is against the Fifth Commandment. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.” (CCC 2324)

On the other hand, however, because life is a gift from God, we have a duty to preserve and properly care for life at all stages from conception to natural death.

Having cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church let’s continue to see what it states about this issue.

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.”  (CCC 2276)

“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. Thus an act of 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 on can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.” (CCC 2277)

“Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; 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.”  (CCC 2278)

Previous to the Catechism, the II Vatican Council condemned crimes against life "such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful suicide" (Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et spes," no. 27).

We also have a very clear and authoritative 1980 statement from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger), entitled The Declaration on Euthanasia. It had the approval of Pope John Paul II.  I will cite portions of this statement:

By euthanasia is understood an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated. Euthanasia's terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used.

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. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action. For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offense against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.

It may happen that, by reason of prolonged and barely tolerable pain, for deeply personal or other reasons, people may be led to believe that they can legitimately ask for death or obtain it for others. Although in these cases the guilt of the individual may be reduced or completely absent, nevertheless the error of judgment into which the conscience falls, perhaps in good faith, does not change the nature of this act of killing, which will always be in itself something to be rejected. The pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love. What a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love, the human and supernatural warmth with which the sick person can and ought to be surrounded by all those close to him or her, parents and children, doctors and nurses.

The Declaration cites specific issues that were concerns, one of which is what can or cannot be done morally when people are facing death or their quality of life is very poor because of some trauma.  This is what it states:

Everyone has the duty to care for his or her own health or to seek such care from others. Those whose task it is to care for the sick must do so conscientiously and administer the remedies that seem necessary or useful.

  However, is it necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies?

  In the past, moralists replied that one is never obliged to use "extraordinary" means. This reply, which as a principle still holds good, is perhaps less clear today, by reason of the imprecision of the term and the rapid progress made in the treatment of sickness. Thus some people prefer to speak of "proportionate" and "disproportionate" means. In any case, it will be possible to make a correct judgment as to the means by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibilities of using it, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources.

Then the Declaration gives some practical guidelines:

In order to facilitate the application of these general principles, the following clarifications can be added:

· If there are no other sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patient's consent, to have recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without a certain risk. By accepting them, the patient can even show generosity in the service of humanity.

· It is also permitted, with the patient's consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patient's family, as also of the advice of the   doctors who are especially competent in the   matter. The latter may in particular judge that the investment in instruments and personnel is disproportionate to the results foreseen; they may also judge that the techniques applied impose on the patient strain or suffering out of proportion with the benefits which he or she may gain from such techniques.

· It is also permissible to make do with the normal means that medicine can offer. Therefore one cannot impose on anyone the obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which carries a risk or is burdensome. Such a refusal is not the equivalent of suicide; on the contrary, it should be considered as an acceptance of the human condition, or a wish to avoid the application of a medical procedure disproportionate to the results that can be expected, or a desire not to impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

· When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not  interrupted. In such circumstances the doctor has no reason to reproach himself with failing to help the person in danger.

Let me conclude with this statement with one from Pope John Paul II: “Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Evangelium Vitae, 1995)

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