Dear Sister Mary Rose,

Thank you so much for taking the time to come and speak to our class. Religion does not play a very large role in my life so I appreciated having someone explain the view points of the Catholic Church in regards to the right to life.

I truly respect the Catholic stance on euthanasia and the right to life. I find the idea that each individual should bear through their suffering in the name of God to be quite a romantic act. I applaud anyone who does such a valiant thing. It is honorable to withstand pain and suffering for what you believe in.

What makes me uncomfortable is that the Catholic Church seems to be imposing its beliefs on all people. Non-believers see euthanasia as “‘mercy killing’, for the purpose of putting an end to extreme suffering…or from the prolongation of, perhaps for many years, of a miserable life.”
To a catholic “nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being” because it is “an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.” I am put off by the rigidity that “nothing and no one” can permit euthanasia ever. It seems slightly narrow minded, and maybe even foolish, to talk in absolutes, especially when it comes to matters on humanity. Certainly most people can agree that in life hardly anything is strictly black and white, but rather an infinitely vast spectrum of grays.

As I read each of these viewpoints I find myself agreeing with each one. Life should be valued and defended at every stage, but at the same time, each person should have control over their own life. The debate will never end because each party believe themselves to be unquestionably right. Who is right? Well, truthfully, the answer depends on who you ask.

According to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “The pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes the ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact it is almost always a case of anguished plea for help and love.” This leads me to ask about the few cases where the person is genuinely pleading for death? Are there wishes simply ignored? In my opinion it is disrespectful and insulting to completely disregard someone’s personal wishes because they do not agree with your personal beliefs.

In summary, according to Christian teaching, “life is a person gift of God” and any attempt on your own life or the life of an innocent person opposes God’s love for that person, violates a fundamental right, and is a crime of the utmost gravity. Murder and suicide are perpetually wrong as they are considered “a rejection of God’s sovereignty and loving plan.” Christians are allowed to use pain killers and other means are allowed to be taken by doctors to ensure their comfort. The treatment of Christian patients is determined by what is considered “proportionate” and “disproportionate” means, so long as they are conscious or able to “satisfy his or her moral duties and family obligations;… and prepare himself or herself with full consciousness for meeting Christ.” Christian patients are allowed to refuse treatment, without it being considered a suicide, if the treatment carries a risk or is burdensome. Most importantly, it is necessary to remember to “provide [patients] with the comfort of boundless kindness and heartfelt charity.”

Like the Catholic Church, Allison Davis is against euthanasia. She was born with a myelomeningocele spina bifida and the doctors advised her parents to deny her treatment when she was born. They suggested that her parents “go home and have another.” From the doctors’ points of view her life would have “no worthwhile quality.” By giving her parents the choice to let her die they implied that her life was worth less than a healthy child’s life. Her case against euthanasia did not bring up religion or God, yet it had some of the same fundamental ideas as the Catholic perspective.

She touched on the idea that giving people the right to choose death, for themselves or others is a slippery slope. The more frequently a society permits euthanasia the more lenient it will become with the policies regarding euthanasia. The value we give to life will diminish, if we are given more opportunities to end it. Allison Davis argues that there is value to her life, she went to school, earned a degree in sociology, and has been happily married for 8 years. What Davis and other disability activists are asking is that the general public to feel the same opposition to a disabled person ending their life as they do for a person with depression. Society should not see a disabled persons life as something with less value. She warns us about the slippery slope, “Woe betide us all, when we get too old to be considered ‘useful’ and all the friends who could have spoken in our defense have already been oh so lovingly ‘allowed to die’.

Not all physically disabled people are against euthanasia and the right to die. Ramon Sampedro was a Spanish fisher man who became a paraplegic at the age of 25. He tragically misjudged the depth of the water when he dove off of a cliff in his home town. He sustained a complete spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the neck down. Sampedro expressed his wishes to die, but was not allowed to by his family or the Catholic Church in Spain. Those who were against his wishes believed that he was simply depressed after the accident and not of sound mind. Like good Catholics they believed that his pleas for death were in fact pleas for love and compassion. His family provided him with love and support and continually tried to convince him to want to live.

Ramon Sampedro fought for almost 30 years to his right to die. How can someone say that his pleas should not be taken literally? He pleaded to die for 30 years. He was given love and compassion; he clearly did not want it. Ramon Sampedro meant what he said. He no longer wanted to live life as a head in a bed. He personally saw that his life lacked the quality it once had and consciously decided that he wanted to die. Ramon Sampedro should not have had to wait 30 years to get what he wanted.

Similarly, Chris Hill was paralyzed from the chest down after a hang gliding accident. In his suicide note, he details the wonder life he lived before his accident and then shame and hardships of his paralyzed state. After listing the many painful complications he suffered he said something that I think holds a lot of truth, “I guarantee that anybody who thinks it can’t have been too bad would change their mind if they loved in my body for a day.” I don’t think it’s right for the government or the Catholic Church to tell someone that they must deal with the inconvenience of their life when they are free of pressure sores, ulcers, and do not have to endure having someone stick a “30-centimetre-long silicon tube up [their] willie four times a day… and a finger up [their] arse every second day to dig out the shit.”

Chris Hill tried to see past all of the physical pain and limitations, he continued to work and went out shopping and to the theater, but in the end it was not a quality life for him. I am not advocating that people who are dissatisfied with their lives end it as soon as they decide it’s not worth living; it is certainly a decision that should be made with extreme care and the input of those important to you. In my opinion though, if you are not religious, the Catholic Church should not be involved in the decision you make. Forcing him to live seems much more inhumane than letting him die.

I agree with the Dutch approach to euthanasia much more than I do with the Catholic approach. It’s a sacrifice of the romantic aspects of enduring extreme suffering in the name of God, in exchange for autonomy and respect. In the opinion of Pieter Admiraal, a doctor in the Netherlands, euthanasia should be legalized and practiced unashamedly because “it is not only compatible with the properly understood duties and responsibilities of a doctor, but as an act sometimes required by them.” He believes that doctors have two primary duties, the first, “to ensure the wellbeing of the patient” and what I believe is most important is to “respect their autonomy. In his perspective, “it would be quite improper to for doctors or health care professionals to impose their values and their understanding of pain and suffering on the patient.”

When Pieter Admiraal was treating Carla, a 47 year old woman with a large malignant tumor, he did not make the decision to end her life on his own. The initial step in the process was made by Carla. She suggested that her life be ended by active euthanasia, stating that “God could not have wanted this.” Once Carla expressed her wishes she was not patronized. An organized team of doctors and a Roman Catholic Chaplin discussed her case and whether or not it was a good choice to let her die. Admiraal expresses that “in situations like these, we always hesitate.” After deliberating the team decided to respect Carla’s wishes, because it was the best choice in her situation. They brought her the “benign death she desired.”

According to the Dutch perspective “active euthanasia is but one more way of delivering humane medical care.”

My opinon has been peppered throughout this combination-letter-essay, and this letter-essay would probably have been much more eloquent and cohesive if I had a more formulated opinion, but the truth of the matter is that I am 17 and hardly anything is completely formulated. How do I feel about suicide? How do I feel about passive euthanasia? Active euthanasia? When the person is not terminal? The truth is that I’m really not sure how I feel.

Of the topics that have been presented to me in Bioethics I have only had a personal experience with suicide. My friend wanted to kill themselves and each time they would express their desire a fire would burst out in my heart and enrage me. He has no right to take his life! Not at all! But I’ve never had a family member who was terminally ill. I’ve never experienced such a hardship. I could try my best to place myself in the situation by reading about it, watching movies about it, and talking to people who have experienced such a tragedy first hand, but it is not the same as experiencing it yourself. Who am I to judge what is right and what is wrong when I have no experience with it?

If I were terminally ill with a painful disease it would exacerbate me to have someone sit at my bedside and try to convert me into a Catholic. Just the thought of it right now makes me almost want to rip my hair out. At times I feel bad that I do not go to Church ( I haven’t gone regularly in 14 years), but it’s just not who I am. I don’t believe having a terminal illness would change that about me. The thought of upsetting “God’s plan” would not deter me from wanting to end my life, because I just don’t believe that. It holds no weight for me. As a healthy 17-year-old I can’t see any other choice than fighting vigorously for my life – there is so much I have yet to experience about the world. But, it is not my place as a healthy 17-year-old to regulate what other people have to endure, the same as it is not the place for Religion. The government, should then model some of its laws after those in the Netherlands and provide patients with a system that evaluates the appropriateness of euthanasia for each specific case (using science, reason, and compassion) if and only if the patient so chooses to go that route. As for the family, I think that they should be a part of the decision making process but most importantly respect the wishes of their loved one.

I admire what Jack Kevorkian did for his patients. I think it was quite courageous of him to do something that ultimately cost him his license and incarcerated him for the good of his patients. I believe that Kevorkian would agree with me when I say that it would have been much better if he had other doctors working alongside him to consult with. In the movie Million Dollar Baby I was rather unsettled by the fact that Clint Eastwood’s character took it into his own hands to end Maggie’s life. If you are going to do something that is very controversial, it is best that you do it in the most levelheaded way possible. It is not a decision to be made quickly or without much thought. It is a matter of life and death and must be made with extreme care.

If there is one part form this entire unit that would make me “side with the Dutch” it would be when Chris Hill wrote:

I was even denied the sensual pleasure of embrace, because from the chest down I couldn’t feel warmth, didn’t even know if someone was touching me.”

I find it terribly sad to be so isolated, so deprived of human touch. After such a traumatic experience I would want to be held; it brings me to tears that the accident would even take away the pleasure of someone holding me in my misery.

It makes me even sadder that Mr. Hill had to die alone. I agree with him that it would have been better if he could have “thrown a raging party and simply have disappeared at dawn with your blessings and understanding.

Amanda T.