Being handed a Living Will leaflet, provided by the hospital, my mind drew blank. I stood there looking at my mother as she laid in ICU. A tube had been placed down her throat, providing her lungs with oxygen. Several IV drips were embedded in her arm, her veins being supplied with medicine to help her body numb the pain and her mind to forget the whole ordeal. A clip that looked like a clothespin pinches her index finger to monitor the amount of oxygen in her system. A tube runs through her nose to her stomach to provide nourishment. There is a metal patch taped to her chest to monitor her heart rate. All I was able to do at the time was watch a monitor suspended from the ceiling as it recorded and pictured numerous blips and beeps that told me that she was alive. I placed the Living Will leaflet aside.
During that temporary crisis at the time, I had no idea of what my mother’s intentions and feelings were in regards to her life. All I knew, and was thankful for, is that we live in a time where doctors and medicine is devoted to saving lives and instilling hope of full recovery. Today’s technology in the medical field is a gift. This gift provides humans with the knowledge to determine, treat, heal, sustain, protect and prolong our very existence. This gift allows humans to cherish, care and provide each other support as reverence to the greatest gift we as humans have received, life.
Since the gift of life is a gift to us, then do we have the right and choice to provide ourselves with a good death? Euthanasia, derived from the Greek language meaning good death, has several meanings. The most common is “the intentional termination of life by another at the request of the person who dies”.
Euthanasia is not only a social issue, but also a moral issue. It effects all humans, on all levels, the healthy, terminally ill, disabled, mentally impaired and those who are handicapped.
As with all issues, come various types of the issue. Euthanasia is commonly split up into four types.
Passive Euthanasia, is the stopping of medical treatment and support systems, not resuscitating the person and not providing food and water. This type is known as letting nature take its course. I would disagree with this label as it is known.
Imagine you have just witnessed a deer that has been hit by a vehicle, it lays there in pain and agony. You watch as the slow death process shuts down the animal’s system. Is this a good death?
The second type is Active Euthanasia. “Kevorkianism” is my term for this type. Due to the direct request from a person, another person or physician injects or causes death to the requestor. In my opinion, this morally corrupts the person requesting the act and inflicts an immoral act of murder to the physician or person.
A third type labeled PAS, meaning Physician Assisted Suicide, is just that. A physician provides the means for a person to take their own life. The person who dies is then able to enable their demise by the push of a button or turn of a valve.
The fourth type is called Involuntary Euthanasia. A person is killed in opposition to their wishes. Blatantly is called murder.
The issue of euthanasia is not the type that may be used, but the justification of the act on the basis of autonomy. Autonomy is derived from the Greek meaning self-law.
Autonomy is being used as an appeal to society in order to promote the right to control ones’ body and life. The freedom to exercise this right brings about another issue, the right to die.
From this, we are entitled to the right to choose. This allows humans to die with dignity. Humans can proclaim, it is my body, it is my freedom, it is my life, and I have control. It is possible with this self-centered mindset, if one becomes institutionalized, depending on machines to sustain our existence, euthanasia is a choice available when the feeling of control has been lost.
In today’s society, we accept and let people do their own thing. Euthanasia becomes a greater social issue especially now as it is being reviewed and legalized in some States and countries. When legalized, euthanasia then becomes a civil liberty, justified for the common good. Just like the right to bare arms, we now have the freedom and right to kill and the freedom and right to kill ourselves. These provide a good death?
Suicide is already a legal act. With legalized euthanasia, the option for the terminally ill person, mentally ill, or physically limited person can exercise their right to suicide.
I find justice in all this, for the selfish human being. But lets look at how we obtained this life in the first place. Doesn't that entity deserve justice also? For me, I see that God, and His gift to us is being treated unfairly, and the whole euthanasia issue is unjustified in God’s plan.
Most religions believe that the life we are given is a gift from God, so in turn, this life can only be taken away by God. Not only human life, but all life in the universe. The human life we are given then becomes our responsibility to care for it and cherish it.
Human suffering is a part of this life. In our world today, we have the medical means to relieve the pain and treat the depression that we may encounter during life. We as humans are able to come together is crisis to support and sustain each other. This is what I call the quality of life. Our responsibility for life is found in stewardship, not ownership. We are able to grow and support each other, for we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but also to each other. In ones’ suffering, relief may come in the form of another’s care and concern. In ones’ suffering, another realizes the importance and goodness they have in life. In ones’ suffering allows God to provide His love through another in providing care, comfort, concern, new research and development. His love is always there for us. It is ongoing.
Today’s society has lost the moral fiber of looking at the uniqueness and value each one of us possess. Unfortunately, humans evaluate people in terms of productivity. Euthanasia endorses that concept. The “quick fix” to end life.
Humans need to re-evaluate our own humanity as a society. Is it fair to cause our own death and the death of others? If euthanasia seems to be the merciful response to end life, maybe we should accept the hastening of death to be more merciful. We are then able to continue to find new ways in medical practices to keep the medical profession in it saving lives as its ethics, rather than having the profession become a killing profession.
We are stewards of the world and to those around us. If I were to become ill, I would be content in knowing those around me were doing everything possible to comfort me. God gave us this gift of life. We do have a right and free will to sustain this life and grow as humans during this life. Even in pain and suffering, we can grow and look for God’s love and provide the growth of this love to touch those around us.
If we allow euthanasia to be a quick fix in our lives, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to grow, pray, and hope to feel God’s love and presence in this life.
Those who support euthanasia claim to have the opportunity to a painless death. Is it really painless? Those who have died can not tell us. But those who have died have left behind the pain of sorrow, and brought the label of assisted murder to the medical profession. This is justice in society today.
So is all this a good death? I have seen the effects of a good death. A life taken, not as passive euthanasia, known as nature’s course, but as God’s course.
My grandmother must have been dying slowly, yet never complained. Her faith kept her humble, she must have known her fate was inevitable. Her last action in life was preparing her death. My mother assisted her with a shower and manicure. As grandma rested upon the bed after this ritual, my mother asked her how she felt. Grandma replied, “I feel great”. She then immediately passed on. This was a good and painless death. Yes, we were saddened, but comforted with the knowledge that she passed on feeling great.
Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J., Conscience in Conflict, How to Make Moral Choices. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1991
Richard M. Gula, S.S., Euthanasia: Moral and Pastoral Perspectives. New York: Paulist Press, 1994
United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1994