What does “Euthanasia” mean?

  • It is a word with a notable historical variability, with diverse meanings according to who uses it.
    It can mean:

    • “a good death” or “without suffering” assisted by a doctor so as to reduce pain;
    • action or omission which brings about death with the goal of eliminating pain in a patient without any hope of healing;
    • “suicide on request” of the patient (assisted suicide).

 

What is the moral evaluation of Euthanasia?

  • If things are to be called as they are, euthanasia means bringing about death in someone who is still alive. A death planned by a doctor who, by vocation and profession, is a minister of life.
  • Euthanasia contradicts the fundamental principle of the non-disposability of the right to life, a right which belongs only to God.
  • To share the suicidal intention of another or to help him or her accomplish it through the so-called “assisted suicide”, means to make oneself a collaborator, and sometimes the principal actor, with a culture of death, with an injustice, which can never be justified, not even when it is requested.
  • Assisted suicide willed and carried out by a healthcare worker, even if consented to by state law, is:
    • a crime against the life of the human person;
    • an abdication of medical science;
    • a legal aberration.
  • The effective logic of euthanasia is essentially self-centred and individualistic and, as such, contradicts the logic of solidarity and the reciprocal trust on which every form of human living together is based.
  • There does not exist within the individual the right to decide on his own death: there exists no right to choose between life and death.
  • One should speak of a right to die well, serenely, avoiding all useless suffering. This coincides with the right to be cared for and assisted with all available ordinary means, without turning to dangerous or burdensome cures. The right to die with dignity does not in fact coincide with the supposed right to euthanasia, which is instead an essentially individualistic and rebellious behaviour.
  • Euthanasia is born from an ideology which grants to man full power over life and therefore over death; an ideology which entrusts absurdly to a human being the power to decide who should or should not live (eugenics).
  • It is an extreme means of escape in front of the anxiety of death (seen as useless, without sense…); it is a short-cut which gives no meaning to the process of dying, nor does it confer any dignity to the one dying; in it, man falls victim to fear and evokes death knowing that it is a defeat and an act of extreme weakness.
  • It is sometimes viewed as a means of limiting cost, above all with regard to the terminally ill, those suffering from psychiatric disorders or age-related complaints… viewed as a dead weight for themselves, family, hospitals, society…
  • The person who wants to die leaves a mark on us all, because his saying ‘no’ to living is also our fault.
  • With respect to the thought, completely Catholic, that even an additional minute of life is important, one thinks of how many times the final minute has transformed the entire direction of a life. This happens as much for kings as for peasants. It can happen that this is the only moment which has true meaning. Therefore to live in a society where everyone does as much as possible to help one to live is better that living in a society where one knows that at a certain point you will be left by everyone and will die.
  • Euthanasia also raises a series of uncomfortable questions, to which no one can ever give an answer, even where euthanasia is legalised: What are the criteria for judging someone “destroyed by pain”? How can the state determine the intensity of suffering which is required to legitimise euthanasia? Who is authorised to decide yes or no: the doctor, a friend, a relative? Who can guarantee that a “happy death” will take place as a means of ending suffering and not for another reason, for interests (even economic ones) which might not be evident?

 

What is the role of the state, of the law?

    • In euthanasia, the state, as guarantor and promoter of fundamental rights, assumes the position of “decider” regarding death, even if the execution is performed by another.
    • The state cannot limit itself to acting only according to that which is in the mentality or the practice of society: the modern state must confront the culture of its citizens and their desires. But, it is also true that the state is not bound to follow them when they are harmful with regard to fundamental rights.
    • The sanctioning effect and the ethical influence that civil legislation has on public morality must also be highlighted. People often express the attitude: “It’s the law, therefore it is permissible.”
    • These attitudes would generate some of these consequences:
      • More people in our society would accept euthanasia as normal.
      • Respect for human life would continue to diminish.
      • Doctors would be placed under an always stronger social pressure to practice euthanasia and assisted suicide, as if it were part of their responsibilities as doctors and part of their normal professional activities. Further, trust in doctors would diminish.
      • There would be less emotional availability to help the sick at the terminal stage, to confront their suffering, to alleviate it and share it. It is absurd to eliminate the sick because it is impossible to eliminate the sickness!
      • A climate would grow around the sick person such that he or she would feel obliged to ease the burden on the others which he or she has become as a result of intensive treatment over a long period.
      • It would be absurd if permission to use euthanasia might in time lead to situations in which terminal patients, their families and doctors would have to justify a decision contrary to euthanasia or assisted suicide.

 

What can one do against the culture of death?

    • It is necessary:
      • to unite the efforts of all who believe in the inviolability of human life, even the life of those who are terminally ill;
      • to resist every temptation to end the life of a patient through an act of deliberate omission or active intervention;
      • to strengthen structures in society which accept and care for people;
      • to make more efficient familial, civil and religious means of assistance and solidarity;
      • to assure a health system that includes forms of treatment that are efficient and accessible, means for relieving pain, and forms of communal support. It is necessary to avoid inefficient treatments or ones which aggravate suffering, but also the imposition of therapeutic methods which are unusual and extraordinary;
      • human support is of fundamental importance, on which the dying person can depend, because the request which rises from the heart of man when confronting suffering and death, especially when he or she is tempted to fall into despair, is above all the request for companionship, for solidarity and for support in a time of trial;
      • to put more resources into finding cures for diseases that are presently incurable;
      • to promote an ethical, psychological, social and technical formation of healthcare workers;
      • to die with human dignity requires “good palliative care and good hospitals”;
      • to promote, in every way, the principle in which death is not and cannot be in the hands of the state or of science or of the individual. The temptation to eliminate sickness and extreme suffering from the horizon of our lives with the short-cut of euthanasia is a risk with unforeseeable consequences;
      • to keep in mind the pronouncements of the Holy See, by means of the Congregation from the Doctrine of the Faith, according to which “when death is inevitable and imminent notwithstanding the treatment administered, it is permissible in conscience to make the decision to renounce treatments which would only result in a precarious and painful prolongation of life, without however interrupting the normal care due to the sick in similar cases”;
    • to above all present the Christian understanding of suffering and of death.

 

What is the Christian understanding of suffering and of death?

    • Life is a gift from God: man is not the master of his own life, in as much as he is not his own creator. He receives life as a gift, as a precious gift in every moment of his life. Man is responsible for how he lives his life and must answer for it to the One who gave it to him.
      To end one’s life does not belong to man. Every instant of his life, even when it is marked by suffering or sickness, has meaning. This is a value to be appreciated and which should bear fruit for him and for others.
    • It is certainly right to battle with sickness, because health is a gift from God. But it is also a gift to know how to read God’s design when suffering knocks on our door. The “key” to this reading is the Cross of Christ. The incarnate Word entered into our weakness, taking it to himself in the mystery of the Cross. From then on, every suffering has acquired the possibility of meaning, which makes it singularly precious.
    • Suffering, a consequence of original sin, assumes, thanks to Christ, a new meaning: it becomes a participation in the salvific work of Jesus Christ. United with that of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation for him who suffers and for others.
      Through the suffering on the Cross, Christ has prevailed over evil and permits also us to conquer it.
    • Even the understanding of death from the Christian point of view is something new and comforting:
    • A life which is coming to its end is no less precious than one which is beginning. It is for this reason that the dying person deserves the utmost of respect and the most loving attention.
    • Death, in Christian belief, is an exodus, a journey, not the end of everything. With death, life is not taken away but transformed. For him who dies without mortal sin, death is entering into communion with the love of God, the fullness of Life and Happiness. It is seeing his face, the fountain of all light and love, just as a child when he is born sees the faces of his own parents. For this reason, the Church speaks of the death of a saint as a second birth: the definitive and eternal birth into paradise.
    • The definitive and complete victory of Christ over evil will be finalized and manifested at the end of the world, when God creates new heavens and a new earth, and he will be “all in all” (1Cor 15,28).