Euthanasia: Suffering and the Sanctity of Life

Recent Belgian legislation, approved by the King of Belgium, has given the right to Euthanasia on children. In reality this is oriented to those who can make an informed choice and who are suffering. One would presume that the legislation will safeguard against coercion or encouragement by parents.

Whilst Euthanasia is about suffering, for those of religious values it is about the sanctity of life. Those who see themselves as non-believers or do not wish to be coerced by their religion see it as an autonomous choice that one should have and that one cannot interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms. There are contentions to this argument however. Man, by nature, is a collective creature. People lives in communities and even if ethics is evolutionary in nature (I do not intend to enter the distinction between Natural Law and Divine law – even Popes have differed on whether they are the same thing) and this mean that collectively we make moral choices happen. Although I always assert that values and ethics are not statistics, the hard reality is that democratic procedures make them so. Therefore the stakeholder lobby is justified and Churches, in my opinion, should concentrate on living the good life practically so that these choices are not seen to be imposed but come from our daily experiential living. Unfortunately that is not the case and we often see that we condemn, scorn and slander those who differ.

To come back to the argument at hand I personally do not see any difference between euthanasia in children and euthanasia in adults, once the child can make due decisions and once the state continues to exert a protective action and see that parents act in the best interests of their child (or should one say teen). The issue remain about the sanctity or value of life and whether an individual has a right, and/or society has an interest (perhaps in protecting those rights) to take his or her own life.

Even if we had to accept euthanasia, there are still considerable consequential problems which even those who take a quality-over-sanctity position ought to consider. The first is the pressure which a sick individual, or an elderly person, may feel if they are ill, require continuous care and feel they are a burden on their family. Will they feel that euthanasia can be an easy way out in order not to be a burden? This is a very possible slippery slope.

The second is that when we speak of quality of life we are usually referring to people who have severe diseases which are terminal. Euthanasia would be a way to hasten death and avoid suffering. But once it becomes common practice one can easily see how people who are not dying, but who feel that their life is not worth living any more – perhaps following an accident which resulted in total paralysis – will have a claim to the option. It will only be a matter of time when the third and most worrying bit hits in: that people will expect these people to choose that option so that they are not a burden on society. Many have already expressed such views and we will soon be hearing voices saying that such people have no right to remain around being a burden to cost and family.

On the other hand we have to accept that when technology was not around, the survivor-ship of many of these individuals was not possible and many people do indeed remain alive because of disproportionate and over-enthusiastic treatment – something which religious authorities have often spoken clearly about. They ought not to be done, especially if the patient or the family consider them extraordinary. If we look at Diane Pretty, a woman with Motor Neuron Disease who petitioned the British and then European court, one has to ask whether indeed she had a right to refuse the treatment (a respirator) that was keeping her alive. Moral teaching says she does. Her problem was her ignorance – she requested outright euthanasia because she did not know any better. She could have invoked her right, and perhaps backed it up by her religious affiliation, to refuse a treatment. The question then would have been whether there is a moral equivalence between not starting treatment and stopping treatment. Logically there should be no difference between refusing a treatment from the beginning and refusing it along the way.

Perhaps we should be looking more closely to what several Popes, including Pius XII and Paul VI had to say – things which find themselves in our Catechism but which very few know about. If this be the case, one would realise, that converse to other bioethical issues, the Catholic Church is quite on the a vanguard on end of life decisions, but when it come to apply them it is our ignorance of the teaching which poses the problem. With palliative care being protected by double effect and with the right to refuse extraordinary care, coupled with the fact that it should not be the paternalistic doctor or state whichi determines what is extraordinary, but the patient and family, then the problem of direct euthanasia would be much less of a problem.

One thought on “Euthanasia: Suffering and the Sanctity of Life

  • Reply Roberta Rizzo 12th March 2014 at 9:52 am

    really well written article!

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