Dear Sister Mary Rose,
My name is Elizabeth R. I wanted to start this letter with a sincere thank you for taking the time to come out to our class and very peacefully give us the Catholic perspective on euthanasia. I really appreciate it.

I’ve done much investigating into this topic as possible, not simply focusing on either the pro-euthanasia or anti-euthanasia sides. I’ve seen many people of different religions and ideologies say what they think about it and I its allowed me to form a comprehensive opinion on the issue. My goal isn’t really to get you to change your opinion on euthanasia. Really, all I want to do is show you my thoughts on it and make someone with my opinion more understandable.

The Catholic Church has made it very clear on where they stand with euthanasia. Life as it is said in Declaration on Euthanasia is “ a gift of God’s love, which they (believers) are called upon to preserve and make fruitful”. This means of course that “no can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being”. The belief of the church is that every and all life is sacred from the moment of conception to the last breath that you take. Suffering at the end of life is even something special. It’s a way for Catholics to suffer in the way that Jesus suffered and “has a special place in Gods saving plan.” Although, the church does not see the use of painkillers as going against the will of God; they are there merely to ease the pain of a suffering individual.

Church members have even reached out and created their own organizations in an effort to stop the pro-euthanasia movement from gaining strength. The Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, part of the National Right to Life Committee, has created specific outlines on their stance on euthanasia. Most people they say who commit suicide do so because of an impaired mental state. Just as the Catholic Church states, those people who attempt suicide are simply just crying out for help.

And this extends to all suicidal people, even those who are terminally ill. The center has rationalized that all people who feel that suicide is their only option are not in the right state of mind, maybe from depression or bipolar disorder. Whatever the case, since they are in this impaired state of mind they do not have the capacity to make the right decisions for themselves.

For other people, the practice of euthanasia is far more personal because they themselves are handicapped. Alison Davis wrote an article in Journal of Medical Ethics about her handicap and how this in no way impaired her quality of life. She was born with a condition called myelomeningocele spina bifida, a condition which causes a defect of the spinal cord. Before she was born her parents were told that their best option would be to abandon her, as she would have ‘no worthwhile quality of life’. Although she does suffer from “considerable and prolonged pain from time to time” she says that she defied the odds and was able to go to an ordinary school, then to university where she eventually got a degree in sociology. She is even married to “an able-bodied man”.

The reason for her writing her article was to argue on legislation being proposed to take away medical treatment for children born with severe congenital defects. Her point was that in spite of her being born disabled, she has been able to lead a normal life and no legislation could down the line lead to the decriminalization of killing a handicapped person, at any age. “Just as it did in Hitler’s Germany”, she writes.

Although she does make the case against euthanasia for those who are handicapped, there are people like Chris Hill, Ramon San Pedro, and Dan James who have completely opposing views to the Catholic Church and Alison Davis. The reason I bring them up is because all these people are, or were handicapped, which makes their point of view all the more personal. Chris Hill was an Australian journalist who as he states it “enjoyed so much more than most people would experience in several lifetimes.” He suffered traumatic injuries to his body and ended up paralyzed from the waist down, more than “three-quarters dead”. He eventually made the decision to take his own life after what he said was “a decision made in a rational state of mind with no outside influence” even saying that anyone who would try to stop him would be committing “a civil and criminal offence against me.”

Both Ramon San Pedro and Dan James also felt this way about their lives after suffering from similar spinal cord injuries. Ramon San Pedro became paralyzed from the waist down after a diving accident and campaigned for nearly 30 years to end his own life. Dan James, a British rugby player, damaged his spine while training and became paralyzed from the neck down. He flew with his parent to an assisted suicide facility in Switzerland called Dignitas in order to “relieve himself of the prison his body had become.”

Places like Switzerland and the Netherlands as well as other facilities and organizations like the Final Exit Network and Death with Dignity feel assisted suicide/euthanasia is something that shouldn’t been labeled as a taboo. In their opinion, the death of a person is for them to decide and it should be handled with respect and dignity.
So, what do I think about this issue? Well, it’s definitely a difficult and highly complex issue, but I have to say that I am pro-euthanasia. Maybe it’s that I don’t have any religious affiliation, nor am I disabled, but if there were a poll asking whether or not you support euthanasia then I would have to answer yes.

The thing about the Catholic/Christian perspective and the National Right to Life Committees view’s are that they seem so cruel. When I was reading the National Right to Life’s webpage about euthanasia I was dumbfounded on how it resorted to “every person who commits suicide just has a mental disorder” when that simply isn’t true. Take a look at Chris Hill, who explained very clearly in his letter that he thought very long about this decision and a loving family supported him.

Look at the cases of Ramon San Pedro and Dan James. This belief just doesn’t hold true with either of these people. Ramon San Pedro campaigned for thirty years to have the right to end his life. Both he and Dan James both had a strong support system around them, so where is this coming from?

There is also the case of Craig Eward. In the documentary The Suicide Tourist, Eward (who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his wife traveled to Zurich, Switzerland in order to obtain the assisted suicide that he could not get here in America. He decided to do this in the beginning stages of his disease before he deteriorated to the point of losing the function to talk and swallow. The documentary showed the long journey from his decision to take his own life, up until his death. Both he and his wife were interviewed as well as their two adult children. I have a problem with the anti-euthanasia perspective because in his case as well as many others, he made the choice to take his own life with a lucid brain and a strong support system around him. He knew that he was going to die and that it would be painful and felt that this was the right way for him to die.

When it comes down to it, it’s not my decision nor yours nor anybody else’s on how someone should die.

Upon the founding of this nation it was believed that we all have fundamental human rights “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Life and liberty being two of the most important ideologies that we believe in. We cannot in any way infringe upon another persons right to their life- either how they decide to live it, or how they decide to end it. Now don’t get me wrong when I say this. I don’t think that we should immediately allow for all doctors to administer a high dosage of drugs to terminally ill or other wise ‘suffering’ patients. Depression is a serious issue that clouds your state of mind. I know because I had to deal with this disease for a large period of my life.

And I also wouldn’t consider myself to believe in all the ideologies of some of these centers that advocate euthanasia. For instance, the Final Exit network uses helium tanks they bought from party city and plastic bags in order to assist in the suicide of the individual who wants it. They sometimes work in secret, not telling the patients family members that the patient is doing this, and even performing the suicide on someone who was not terminally ill but only thought they were. I think it’s atrocious how this group works and the pain they have caused and will cause, but this still doesn’t change my mind.

Even with a case like Terri Schaivo who was starved to death and had so much controversy surrounding her. I honestly feel like she shouldn’t have had to die like that. I know her family could have taken care of her, but I feel like letting her continue to live would only have given them false hope that she would get better; with her autopsy showing such deteriorated tissue in her brain and no chance of recovery, keeping her alive wouldn’t have allowed her family to let go.

I feel like our deciding to not discuss something like this, something as important as how you want to die, is only keeping us from maturing as a nation. I’m sorry if this does offend, but we can’t let religion into the discussion any longer. I also don't think that it's a decision that should be solely decided on by one patient contemplating it, or one doctor reviewing that file, or one judge to make the ruling. This won't snowball into an issue of people being forced to commit suicide- the Netherlands explicitly views it as "no patient- no matter how ill will have his or her life cut short unless there is an explicit request." In a nation where it's been established that their is freedom of religion, civil liberties, and life, no one can decide for another person just because their religion or their feelings are opposed to it. If life is as precious as we want to believe it is, we should allow people decide what they want to do with it.

Thank you once again for speaking to us on this issue and for taking the time to read this, if you ever get the chance.

Yours truly,
Elizabeth R.