Euthanasia and the Culture of Death

The Hamilton SpectatorPaul Kokoski web-source:

The House of Commons is currently considering Bill C-384, a bill that would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. This bill -- a private member's bill scheduled for further debate and a vote on first reading sometime in May -- should be rejected by every member of parliament.

Shortly before the passing of severely handicapped Terri Schiavo in Florida in 2005, whose death was hastened by a U.S. court order to remove her feeding tube, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote: "That there arose a national outcry at the execution of Schiavo -- so loud Congress and president Bush heard it and came to the rescue -- is a sign America is not morally dead ... yet. But a culture of death has taken deep root in America's soul."

The term "vegetative state," which was applied to the Schiavo case and her condition, indicates the condition of those patients whose "state" continues for over a year. Such people show no evident sign of being aware of themselves or their environment, and seem unable to interact with others or to react to specific stimuli. Although such patients remain prisoners of their condition for long periods of time and without needing technological support, it cannot be underestimated that there has been at least partial recovery in some of these cases.

Medical science, therefore, is unable to predict with exact certainty which patients in this condition will recover, and which will not.

Unfortunately, there are those who cast doubt on the persistence of the "human quality" of these patients, suggesting that the clinical term "vegetative" could or should be applied directly to the sick person as such, actually demeaning their value and personal dignity. The sick person in a vegetative state has the right to basic health care. The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act.

The "quality of life," often imposed by economic, social and psychological pressures, cannot take precedence over general principles according to which even the simple doubt of being in the presence of a living person morally obliges one to respectfully abstain from any act that aims at anticipating the person's death.

Moreover, it is not possible to say that the withdrawal of a feeding tube will not be the source of considerable suffering for the sick person, even if we can see only the patient's reactions at the level of the autonomic nervous system or of gestures.

Our present culture tends to consider suffering the epitome of evil. In such a culture there is a great temptation to resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death so that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable. True compassion leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

The pleas of the gravely ill who sometimes request death should not 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. Intentionally causing one's own death, or suicide, is a rejection of God's sovereignty and loving plan. It is a refusal of love for self, the denial of a natural instinct to live, a flight from the duties of justice and charity owed to one's neighbour and to society.

No one should be allowed to permit in any way 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. The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law.

In the Netherlands, a policy originally encompassing only persistent requests for death from hopelessly suffering and dying patients has steadily expanded so that physicians have been allowed to kill patients who were physically healthy and handicapped children who never asked for death.

The Netherlands stands as a stark reminder of the slippery slope leading from supposedly limited killing to a broader culture of death.

There exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope. What any sick person needs, besides medical care, is love -- the human and supernatural warmth provided by those close to him such as family, nurses and doctors.

Terri Schiavo's public "execution" is a strong reminder that euthanasia, understood as an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, is senseless and inhumane and should be opposed in all its forms.