By BRIAN CLOWES
(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
+ + +
We have covered the definitions of the varieties of euthanasia (active and passive, voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary), the types of suicide, and the scientific definition of death. It is important to know terms relating to the natural end of a human life, and we should also be familiar with the soothing and deceptive terms often used by pro-euthanasia groups.
Natural death means allowing a person to die in comfort and peace by withholding excessive or heroic treatment that would only cause pain and lengthen the person’s lifespan by a modest or insignificant amount. Note that if medical professionals withheld the same treatment from a person in the same circumstances whose lifespan would be significantly lengthened by it, they would be instead committing passive euthanasia. Food, water, and oxygen must be provided during the person’s progression to natural death, because they are the right of every human being.
Letting a person die a natural death is not passive euthanasia. As Bishop René Gracida has defined it: “If the removal of a life-sustaining procedure is intended to avoid an unreasonable burden of the procedure, so that a quicker death is only an unintended side-effect of the decision, it is not a case of euthanasia.”
An associated term is palliative care, which is treatment provided in order to alleviate pain and other discomfort that accompany a terminal illness without treating the illness itself, because such treatment is considered to be futile and not in the best interests of the patient.
“Rights Talk” And Euthanasia
The Culture of Death has found that it can make great progress by emphasizing the “hard cases” and by framing all of its initiatives in terms of “human rights.” It is irrelevant whether or not such “rights” are moral or immoral, beneficial or terribly destructive, legal or illegal, or even if they exist; liberals believe that saying something makes it so, and they see all individuals as bundles of rights that must possess the maximum possible degree of freedom in order to be happy and fulfilled.
Of course, this is a very effective way to advance their own agendas, whether or not they are in the best interests of the people.
The right to die does not actually exist, according to either the laws of God or the laws of man. Pro-euthanasia activists cleverly fabricated a “right to die” in order to appeal to people who have become conditioned into unthinkingly accepting new and dangerous “rights.”
The “rights” formulated under the umbrella “right to privacy” include contraception, abortion, direct and indirect infanticide, various homosexual activities, pornography, and euthanasia. Courts have used the so-called “right to privacy” repeatedly to legitimize behavior that many people find abhorrent or immoral — quite simply because there is no possible legitimate justification for them.
Fundamentally, the “right to die” is not a right — it is the forfeiture of all possible rights, and, as in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the People’s Republic of China, will inevitably become for many people the duty to die.
As former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm asserted: “. . . We have a duty to die. It’s like leaves falling off a tree forming the humus for the other plants to grow up. We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.”
Other pro-euthanasiasts have gone so far as to allege that living a long and healthy life is actually an immoral act! John Hardwig, retired professor of medical ethics and social philosophy at East Tennessee State University, has claimed:
“There may be a fairly common responsibility to end one’s life in the absence of any terminal illness….There can be a duty to die even when one would prefer to live. To have reached the age of, say, 75 or 80 years without being ready to die is itself a moral failing, the sign of a life out of touch with life’s basic realities.”
Death with dignity is a difficult term to address, because it is so slippery and hard to define. This failing, of course, makes it a perfect tool for the euthanasia pushers.
All people, whether they support or oppose euthanasia, desire a dignified death for themselves and for their loved ones. But the primary conflict arises over the definition of “dignity.”
Pro-euthanasia activists perceive a loss of physical or intellectual dignity when a person becomes incontinent, incoherent, and confused, suffers intractable pain, or feels that he has lost control of his destiny.
Anti-euthanasia activists perceive a loss of spiritual dignity when a person loses his focus on God and instead desires only a release from an existence that he or others may find pointless and wasteful.
The terminally ill person’s state of mind highlights the difference in viewpoints.
When a person’s fear of death is exceeded only by his fear of pain or loss of control, he is in a state of mortal terror and may see death as only a blessed release from his current situation. He may indeed fear what happens after death, but primarily focuses only on his present circumstances. Such a person necessarily defines his degree of dignity by purely physical or emotional criteria.
However, when a person overcomes his fear of both death and pain, and accepts and transcends them with a deep peace at the end of his life, he realizes that purely physical measures of “dignity” are inappropriate because they are incomplete.
True compassion demands that all of us love and support one another regardless of our functional capacity or appearance, and prepare the dying for their ultimate meeting with God. This is the true definition of living with dignity, even when in the last stages of dying.
Mercy killing is an act of direct euthanasia usually committed for the alleged purpose of ending the suffering of an unproductive or terminally ill person. In reality, healthy people usually commit “mercy killings” in order to relieve themselves of the inconvenience and expense of caring for those who have (or will) become an emotional or financial burden on them. “Mercy killing” usually takes place without the express request of the victim, and is carried out in the belief that it is the most compassionate course of action.
Over the past few decades, society has defined two classes of born human beings who are not suffering, but who are nonetheless candidates for “mercy killings” — handicapped newborns who could otherwise live long lives, and people in an extended comatose state. Pro-euthanasia groups are now attempting to extend this lethal “privilege” to terminal patients and nursing home residents, regardless of their emotional state or level of pain.
It is inevitable that the number of people eligible for “mercy killings” will expand rapidly and uncontrollably, just as it did in Nazi Germany, and just as it is doing in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium today.
“Mercy killing” of both infants and adults is a logical extension of the practice of elective abortion committed to eliminate handicapped preborn babies. If healthy preborn babies can be killed up until the moment of birth because the mother perceives her health or well-being is threatened, then why can they not be killed shortly after birth, especially if they have a serious chromosomal defect such as Down syndrome?
Down syndrome children are among the happiest and most contented human beings in existence, often living well into adulthood and giving great joy to others. In fact, surveys have shown that people with Down syndrome are by far the happiest group of people on Earth, with an incredible 99 percent saying that they are satisfied and happy with their lives. Yet 90 percent of them are killed in utero, not because they will suffer, but because their parents perceive that they will suffer.
If a person accepts death on God’s terms, it is a mercy. However, if others force it on us, or if we strive for it due to the dictates of our misguided consciences, it is a dreadful burden, seemingly acceptable only because it appears to be less terrible than the pain.
It All Comes Down To Intent
Despite the forest of confusing terms, there is one certain way to determine whether an action is licit or illicit — intent. If the intent of the action or omission is to hasten the death of a person, this is euthanasia and is never morally permissible. However, if the intention of the action or omission is simply to let nature take its course and not unnecessarily prolong the process of dying, then it is permissible to withhold or withdraw a treatment or procedure.
In summary, it is intent, not the consequences of the situation, no matter how dire, that determines the morality of a particular act.