February 4, 2022


We must oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide

The month of January was filled with stories about Masses, marches and demonstrations in support of the legal protection of unborn babies. But there were also things going on concerning the other end of life’s spectrum, and not to the good.

In Colombia, which has a large Catholic population, two people were euthanized over a period of 24 hours: Victor Escobar on Jan. 7 and Martha Liria Sepulveda Campo on Jan 8. Campo was originally scheduled to have it done earlier, but it was delayed.

Colombian Bishop Francisco Ceballos had produced a video in which he urged her to reflect on her decision “away from the harassment by the media” that had used her circumstances “as a kind of propaganda for euthanasia.”

Just as many segments of the media have long promoted abortion as a woman’s “right,” so those same periodicals and TV shows have stepped up efforts to make euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide a “basic freedom.”

The influential periodical The Economist, for example, bragged in its Nov. 13 issue that it “first made the case for assisted dying in 2015. We argued that freedom should include the right to choose the manner and timing of one’s own death.”

Not so, the Catholic Church insists. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “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 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” (#2277).

It’s obvious that the Church isn’t getting this message across to some of its members. Largely Catholic countries throughout the West (Italy, Ireland, Spain, Chile, Uruguay and Colombia) either already have laws that permit euthanasia or are moving in that direction.

In the Netherlands, nearly 2,000 people died that way in 2020. It should be noted that this country is largely secular, with a majority of the population not identifying with any religion. Only about 20% of its population is Catholic.

Most of these deaths have been related, in one way or another, to cancer. However, some countries also permit physician-assisted deaths to those with mental disorders and dementia, and even to the elderly who are just tired of living.

In the United States, Oregon was the first state to permit physician-assisted suicide, in 1997, when its legislature passed the Death with Dignity Act. Around 2,000 people have died under the law, 250 of them last year. Since 1997, 10 other states, plus Washington, D.C., have passed versions of the Oregon law.

The whole idea of being able to decide when and how we die is appealing to many people, especially to the elderly and those with painful illnesses. A poll in Spain found that 71% of those surveyed in 2019 supported voluntary euthanasia. The Church understands that sentiment. It does not insist that sick people just “offer it up.”

The catechism says, “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” (#2278).

Furthermore, “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. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such, it should be encouraged” (#2279).

There are reasons other than religious for condemning assisted-suicide laws. Hardest of all concerns those with dementia. They might have made a living will asking for assisted-suicide when the time came, but then changed their minds.

Other elderly sick people might feel that they are a burden to their family or caregivers. They love the independence they have enjoyed most of their lives and dislike feeling dependent upon others. There have been cases where family members have pressured those who are living with a terminal illness to speed the process along.

We must oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. We must also make sure that our elderly who are sick are made as comfortable as possible during their last days.

—John F. Fink

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