Choose a topic from Vol 4:

Religion - Yes or No

Necessity of Religion
Reality of Religious Experience
Religion and life
Religious statistics
Nature of religion
Necessity of worship
Neglect of religion
Religion and history
Conversion of mankind

The Christian Church

Nature of the Church
Necessity of the Church
Visible organisation
Hierarchical constitution
Papal supremacy
Perpetuity of the Church

"This Shall Be the Sign"

Notes of identification
Unity of the Church
Holiness of the Church
Catholicity of the Church
Apostolic succession
"Roman" but not "Roman Catholic"

Dogmatic Authority of the Church

Authority in religion
Catholic Church infallible
The Pope infallible
Papal definitions
Dogmatic spirit of the Catholic Church
"Religion of the spirit"
Individual freedom
Re-stating Christianity
Athanasian Creed
Meaning of faith
Faith and reason
Faith and science
Religion and education
Religion and morals
Catholic countries backward
Universities and religion
Natural Moral Law
Christian principles of morality
Catholicism versus the world

The Power-Complex Illusion

Legislative power of the Catholic Church
Coercive power of the Catholic Church
Catholic Church and political ambitions
Divided allegiance of Catholics
Rome and totalitarianism
Aim of the Catholic Church in America
Catholic Action
Political freedom of Catholics
Catholic infiltration of civic life
Catholicism anti-democatic
Rival totalitarianisms, Rome and Moscow
Catholic attitude to Protestants
Spanish Inquisition
Church and State
Federal Union or "One World State"

Life-Or-Death Social Problems

Social reform necessary
Trade unions
Protestant Churches and Communism
Social apathy of Churches
Catholic social teaching
Family life
Primary purpose of marriage
Religion and marriage
Form of marriage
Mixed marriages
Birth control
"Catholic birth control"
Divorce and re-marriage
Catholics and civil divorce
Nullity decrees
Therapeutic abortion
Euthansia or mercy-killing

Those Exclusive Claims

Divided Christendom
Do divisions matter?
The "Only True Church" claims
Cause of sectarian bigotry
Reunion Movement
Catholic non-cooperation

Religious Liberty

Religious freedom
Catholic intolerance
Protestants and the principles of religious liberty
Rome and the "Four Freedoms"
Heresy and heretics
Religious rights of Protestants
Religious persecution
"Rome's historical record"
Protestant missionaries in Spain
In Italy
In South America
Conditions in Colombia

Are Only Catholics Saved

"Outside the Catholic Church no salvation"
Beliefs of Catholics
Salvation of Pagans
Salvation of Protestants
Why become a Catholic?
Duty of inquiry
Salvation of apostate Catholics
Test at the Last Judgment
Obstacles to conversion
Truth of Catholicism

Euthansia or mercy-killing

1273. I would like to put some questions on the highly controversial problem of euthanasia, which so long divided the ancient philosophers.

The ancient pagan philosophers were divided as to whether suicide was lawful or not. That is but one aspect of the wider modern problem of euthanasia. Never, of course, at any stage of history, has the Christian Church wavered in her condemnation of suicide as a grave sin against God's positive commandments and the natural moral law. Pre-Christian pagan doubts are no reason why we should doubt, as if 2000 years of Christian civilization counted for nothing at all and the religion of Christ worthless. As for euthanasia, that is not a controversial question for Catholics, however confused non-Catholics may be concerning it. Its prohibition is part of the natural moral law, and of God's revelation in both the Jewish and the Christian religions.

1274. In the Greek, the work euthanasia simply means a good death. Surely a good death is better than a painful one?

To speak like that is to have in mind only the physical manner of death, forgetting moral and spiritual considerations. In the moral and spiritual order good and evil are not to be identified with physical comfort and physical pain. A man can die a good death painfully, or an evil death painlessly. Christ, and the thousands of martyrs who have suffered for the love of Christ, died good deaths painfully. A suicide, who dies from an overdose of drugs, can die a bad death painlessly. Your outlook could not be accepted by anyone to whom moral and spiritual values mean more than merely materialistic considerations.

1275. Does the Catholic Church absolutely deny a man's right to terminate his own life?

Yes. God's commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," not only forbids the murdering of other people, but also suicide or self-destruction.

1276. The Anglican Dean of St. Paul's, London, told the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society that its proposals are "quite in accordance with the Christian conception of human right and duty."

Its proposals are absolutely opposed to the Christian conception of human right and duty. Anyone who voluntarily plans his own destruction is guilty of suicide, and it has ever been Christian teaching that suicide is gravely sinful in the sight of God. Voting against the "Euthanasia Bill" in the British House of Lords, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Fisher, rightly said: "It is a clear moral principle that no man is entitled voluntarily to take his own life." That statement, in 1936, before Dr. W. R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul's, spoke, should have made him at least hesitate before making his own foolish utterance.

1277. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Barnes of Birmingham told the British Association for the Advancement of Science that euthanasia "does not seem to conflict with the fundamental religious principles of our developing scientific civilization."

If that be so, there is something radically wrong with our developing scientific civilization as envisaged by Bishop Barnes. The idea that the moral law can be changed because of advances in our knowledge of the material world is sheer folly. The moral law is based, not on human ideas of expediency, but on the manifest will of God. New conditions of human life provide new problems with which we must deal in accordance with the moral law; they do not provide justification for altering cf tampering with Christian ethical standards. But so frequent are such irresponsible statements from Anglican dignitaries that they have sure ceased to provide reason for astonishment.

1278. Another Anglican clergyman, the Rev. G. Stuart Watts, said that moral theologians should consider the situation euthanasia is designed to meet.

The sound moral theologian, before considering the end for which certain means are to be employed, examines the proposed means themselves. For if the means are morally evil in themselves, they may not be employed, however good or attractive the end may seem. The end does not justify the means. Now euthanasia means deliberately killing a human being who has the misfortune to be incurably sick, but who has been guilty of no crime. Before any talk of expediency or advantages, one must ask whether it is morally lawful in itself to put an innocent human being to death, either with or without his consent. Until that question has been settled, other considerations have no claim to our attention.

1279. The only argument against euthanasia seems to be that God alone confers life, God alone may decree its end. But thait argument is impossible while we permit war and capital punishment.

That is not true. For God Himself has authorized States to inflict the death penalty on people guilty of capital crimes. To contract an incurable illness is not to be guilty of any crime. War also, as an act of collective self-defence, is permitted by the law of God, even as an individual is justified in resisting an unjust aggressor, inflicting death on that aggressor if there is no other way of saving one's own life. But an incurably sick person is not an unjust aggressor, and the taking of his life is not necessary for the safeguarding of our own. The commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," in the sense of: "Thou shalt do no murder," is absolute. No one has the right either to commit suicide or to commit murder.

1280. Surely it is a matter of conscience; and there are people whose consciences see no violation of the law of God in mercy-killing.

There may be people who say that their conscience sees no wrong in it. But people can suppress the voice of conscience, or misinterpret it for the time being to suit themselves. When the pressure is taken off, however, conscience speaks once more. On Oct. 26, 1951, a cabled report from London told of a 55-year-old woman who a few months earlier had gassed her 80-year-old mother in a "mercy-killing." The woman was arrested, tried, acquitted of murder and released unconditionally. On Oct. 24, she gassed herself in the same house in which she had put her mother to death. Despite her acquittal by civil law she found no peace of mind in the thought of what she had done. And objectively, of course, she merely added to the sin of murder the sin of suicide. Whether she was in her right mind or not on either occasion it is not for us to judge. We must leave that to God. But what people persuade themselves they are justified in doing is not a reliable indication of what a right conscience would dictate.

1281. Do medical men generally agree with the proposals of the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society?

No. Even though most doctors acknowledge no binding force in the Hippocratic Oath forbidding killing patients by drugs, they realize that endless disputes would arise from the practice of voluntary euthanasia both as to the fact of the patient's consent and as to whether he was of sound mind when giving it. Most doctors also object to the moral responsibility being placed on them to decide that any given patient is ill enough to be put to death. They rightly argue that a doctor's duty is to save life, not to destroy it. Dr. J. G. Hunter, Secretary of the British Medical Association in Australia, said on this subject: "Disease presumed to be incurable does not necessarily mean excruciating pain. The medical profession has many means of relieving pain; and it condemns euthanasia in any form. The World Medical Association's Council rejected it unreservedly at a meeting in Denmark last year." Also, in May, 1950, the Medical Society of New York protested against any attempts to legalize euthanasia. In their resolution the assembled representatives of over 25,000 doctors said: "Most physicians whose work is dedicated to the saving of life could not conscientiously subscribe to the finality of legalized euthanasia, the bringing of death to some supposedly incurable patients who, emotionally unbalanced by sickness, might crave such an end to their suffering; for the final responsibility for making such a decision must become the responsibility of physicians."

1282. We all admit that life is sacred; but that may become a hollow phrase.

If life is sacred in itself, it is because God has reserved to Himself the right of dominion over it. Those things are sacred which belong to God. And there are no circumstances which can make God's right to grant or to terminate life a hollow phrase. There are circumstances which can make a human life uncomfortable, painful, of little use apparently to self or to others as far as this world is concerned. But the sacredness of life does not consist in absence of discomfort and pain, or in usefulness to self and others in merely temporal and earthly matters. The sacredness of life consists in the fact that it belongs to its Giver, who is God. Suicide and murder mean usurping rights which do not belong to us at all. And euthanasia ranks with them.

1283. When life becomes continuous and agonizing pain, unrelieved by any hope of relief from that pain until death, could anyone be so callous as to tell a person that life is sacred and that it is his duty to endure to the end!

You are imagining conditions which do not exist. No life in these days need become one of continuous and unrelieved pain. When opposing the "Euthanasia Bill" in the British House of Lords in 1936, Lord Horder, the King's physician, said: "We never had so many means of relieving pain as we have today, and those means may be expected to increase." Without putting a patient to death, and without even notably shortening his life, pain can be reduced to bearable proportions, or even to the stage where the patient is scarcely conscious of it. There is no need to tell any patient that it is his duty to endure unrelieved suffering to the end.

1284. I cannot understand doctors who say that it is their duty to prolong life to the uttermost.

Have you ever heard a doctor say that? A doctor might say that it is his duty to preserve life rather than to destroy it. But whilst that forbids the direct and deliberate killing of a patient, it does not mean that a doctor must "prolong life to the uttermost." If an incurable patient will die more quickly without artificial stimulation to prolong the process of dying, the doctor can allow nature to take its course without deliberate efforts to make him live longer. Furthermore, pain may be alleviated by the use of drugs even, if whilst conscious he has been well prepared for death, to the extent of keeping the patient practically unconscious of all pain. What is forbidden is actually to terminate the patient's life so that he has been murdered rather than allowed to die of natural causes.

1285. Some doctors, faced with the hopeless torture of an incurable patient, have given morphia injections which they know will be fatal.

You do not settle the problem as to whether a thing is right or wrong by quoting what some doctors have done. Such doctors have simply been guilty of morally wrong conduct. And the supposition that they are faced with the hopeless torture of an incurable patient is false. They are not always certain, by any means, that patients thought to be incurable are really incurable; and with the means of relieving pain at their disposal, they need leave no patient in a state of hopeless torture

1286. Could not the law sanction euthanasia provided the patient consented?

Morally, no; for that would mean asking a sick person to be put to death, which in practice means asking the patient to consent to the sin of suicide by proxy. Nor would it free the doctor who put the patient to death from the sin of murder. From the civic point of view, were euthanasia made legal, people who stand to benefit by a sick person's death would soon find doctors willing to cooperate, were it made worth their while; and that, whether the patient consented or not. Long and costly murder-investigations would be the inevitable result.

1287. Since the Catholic Church declares so-called "mercy-killing" to be murder, how could a jury in America, in 1950, consisting of 9 Catholics and only 3 Protestants, find Dr. Hermann Sander, of New Hampshire, not guilty on the charge of having put an incurable patient to death?

Dr. Sander avoided the issue of euthanasia by pleading that the patient was dead already when he gave the injections. That completely altered the case, and the verdict of the jury was not that euthanasia is permissible, but merely that there was not sufficient proof that the patient was alive at the time. That implies that the accused would have been guilty had the patient been still living. Advocates of euthanasia gained nothing from the Sander case.

1288. Although euthanasia is still illegal, public opinion today is in favor of a change in the law.

That is not true. It may be that some people are in favor of legalizing euthanasia. Others most emphatically are not. There is a big difference between the thoughts of some members of the public and "public opinion." And even if it were true that so many favored legalizing euthanasia that the idea could be called "public opinion," that would not be decisive in a matter of ethics. Ethics asks, not what most people want, but whether a given way of acting is right.

1289. Suicide has carried a grave social and moral stigma; but nowadays a kindly coroner makes formal excuse and a religious burial is rarely refused.

That is another matter altogether. It is one thing to say that suicide is a gravely sinful action in itself; quite another to judge the degree of a person's knowledge and self-possession at the time of suicide. That a kindly coroner makes a formal excuse is in itself an admission that suicide is evil. Were it not, no excuse would be necessary. And whilst Christian burial is refused to suicides by the laws of the Catholic Church, the Church has always insisted that the law applies only to those who were in full possession of their faculties at the time, and gave no signs of repentance before actual death. If there be any doubt on these points, charity demands that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the person concerned. Nothing in all this provides a sound argument in favor of euthanasia.

1290. Love and compassion should lead intelligent Christian people to support voluntary euthanasia

As Christians, people cannot support the practice of suicide and murder; and even as intelligent they would not do so. In June, 1949, the French Academy of Moral and Political Science absolutely rejected the idea of legalized euthanasia, declaring that "all medical or social doctrine that does not systematically respect the very principles of life leads fatally, as shown by recent experience, to criminal abuse." The Academy quoted the Nazi death-chambers, and added that, while a doctor should by his technical skill do his best to diminish pain, he must never consider it "lawful deliberately to provoke death."

1291. Medical practice is based on the truth that life is worth living; but life is not always worth living.

If one takes a purely materialistic view of life and sees no value in it as a preparation for an eternal destiny, and if there be no God with any right to prescribe how we shall use the lives He gives us, that may seem to be-true. But the materialistic view of life and the denial of God's authority are violations of the truth. Life is always worth living as long as God wills it because God wills it. For it is always worth while to do God's will in whatever circumstances He permits us to be; and more than ever worth while when we do it on principle at great cost to ourselves. But that does not mean that we are obliged to do it at the greatest possible cost to ourselves, although those heroic enough are free to make such a choice. For example, the Duke of Marlborough, who became a Catholic in 1926, after Rome had granted the Decree of Nullity in regard to his first marriage in 1895 to Consuelo Vanderbilt, died in 1934, suffering agonies from cancer. But to the very last he refused morphia to alleviate his pain, saying that in becoming a Catholic he had embraced "a religion which has the crucifixion at its centre." He wished to die enduring the fulness of pain in union with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. However, as I have said, that is not an obligation. Provided we keep within the law of God, we are free to seek and use natural means to alleviate the difficulties and discomforts we encounter.

1292. Surely a person's last days are so important and serious that he should not be deprived of his senses during them.

Except in extreme and exceptional cases, and even then only after the patient has been spiritually prepared for death, it is not lawful to give drugs in such quantities that all consciousness and responsibility is destroyed. Even if a dying person is spiritually prepared, it is normally lawful to give him only sufficient to relieve excessive pain without causing actual unconsciousness, so that he may not lose the merit of Christian patience, voluntary acceptance of God's will, and the opportunity of bearing his trials in union with the sufferings of Christ.

1293. I feel that it is wrong to deprive patients of the powers of reason and speech.

Whilst in general that is true, there are exceptional cases where it would not be wrong, provided the patient has been spiritually prepared for death. The decision as to the degree of pain a patient is able to bear with spiritual benefit must rest, of course, with the patient and his spiritual; adviser. Every patient has the right to the full use of his faculties till the very end; and if he does not wish to be drugged into too drowsy a condition, his wish must be respected. A spiritual adviser, however, might well persuade him that a semi-conscious act of resignation to God's will in less pain would be better than a bitterly resented greater pain. But, in the end, it is for the patient to say what degree of pain he is able and willing to bear. Even so, save in exceptional cases, doctors and nurses should ordinarily give only sufficient drugs to alleviate pain without destroying consciousness, or at least without doing so save for short periods.

1294. I cannot see the argument that to end a painful illness by euthanasia is to avoid a divinely-appointed discipline of suffering. A man who would forbid chloroform for a major operation on such grounds would be ridiculed.

And rightly so. For, apart from the necessity of passivity in the patient for the success of the operation, we have a Christian duty to use all lawful means to alleviate pain. But that does not mean that we have any right to kill the patient as a means toward ending his sufferings. After we have done all that is lawfully and humanly possible to alleviate pain, any residue of suffering that cannot be escaped must be accepted as God's will and endured with Christian courage both in expiation of our sins and as proof of the constancy of our love of God. And God will give the grace necessary for that to those who ask for it.

1295. Advocating euthanasia, the Anglican Canon Peter Green said that every year people commit suicide to escape lingering agony.

That does not make their action right; and the problem is precisely whether it is right or not for people to behave in such a way.

1296. He said that these people die in angry revolt against God and without the consolations of religion. But if they got a doctor to end their lives painlessly, they would have time to settle their affairs, say goodbye to their friends, and receive the last riles of the Church.

If people decided to commit suicide, they could still settle their affairs first and say goodbye to their friends. But it is astonishing that Canon Green cannot see that, if it is wrong to revolt against God by committing suicide, the decision to get a doctor to put an end to one's life is suicide also, and still an act of revolt against God. A person deliberately entertaining such an intention would not be in proper dispositions to benefit by the rites of any Church. In discussing the Tightness or wrongness of actions in themselves, it is beside the point to introduce the question of the way in which it is done, declaring one way more expedient than another. Such confused thinking does not engender confidence in the moral guidance of people capable of it.

1297. Think of the misery of relatives and friends watching an incurable patient slowly dying, without their being able to do anything to ease his pain.

With the drugs and sedatives available today it is not true to say that nothing can be done to ease the patient's pain. And certainly relatives and friends would not be justified in killing him to alleviate their own misery, or to free themselves from the discomfort of having to care for him.

1298. The result of rejecting euthanasia is that the world is overstocked with people who must be fed, clothed, nursed and housed, and who are unable to produce anything of material value, whether goods or services.

That thought is as opposed to a Christian outlook as it well could be. It argues from the discomfort of those who have to be bothered feeding, clothing, nursing and housing the sick and the dying. And that is an appeal to the selfishness of those who are well and healthy, not to Christian charity. Also it proceeds from a materialistic outlook which holds that human life is valuable only in so far as it is socially useful, that individuals have no particular personal worth or rights, and that this world alone is of importance, as if death were the end of everything. That is not the Christian outlook.



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