Dear Sister Mary Rose,

Hello. I am Emilia C and I was one of the students in the back who was really quiet because I was too scared to ask any questions. I come from an extremely mixed religious background. My dad's family was Catholic and my mom's family is Jewish and somehow they both ended up being agnostics who believe in aliens and the like. I recently joined a Presbyterian church which I love very much but don't always agree with. I don't know what or who I believe in and I think that's what made me hesitate to ask questions. Why should I question your beliefs if I don't even know my own? I come from a life filled with death too. Just when you think enough people have died, somebody else manages to kick the bucket and it doesn't matter how close you are to them, the impact is still enough to knock you down.

"The pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love." I feel that this excerpt from the "Declaration on Euthanasia" from the "Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith" from 1980 accurately summarizes the Catholic view of active euthanasia and puts the Catholic opinion into one concise sentence. Catholics believe that life is a gift and the destiny of it should not be controlled by humans as it is always in God's hands. Therefore, active euthanasia is by no means ever acceptable in the Catholic faith because the person who executes this act is "playing God." Euthanasia is considered murder therefore violating one of the Ten Commandments and "opposing God's love for that person...committing a crime of the utmost gravity" as stated in the "Declaration on Euthanasia."

As stated before, active euthanasia not only dismisses God's love but also attempts to take one's destiny into their own hands, which is absolutely not acceptable in the Catholic Church. As far as I understand, Catholics are encouraged to moderate their painkillers and the like in order to take on the sufferings of Christ. Suicide or euthanasia would deprive the dying person from a potential moment of realization with God as they suffer their way to death. In regard to the use of narcotics to lessen one's suffering but also make them unconscious and thereby unintentionally shorten their life, the Pope has stated "If no other means exist, and if, in the given circumstances, this does not prevent the carrying out of other religious and moral duties: Yes." Therefore, unintentionally shortening one's life by the use of narcotics is acceptable.

Passive euthanasia is much more accepted by the Catholic church than active euthanasia. Refusing treatment, which will eventually lead to death is permissible because it is "acceptance of the human condition...or a desire not to impose excessive expense on the family or the community" making refusing treatment a selfless and reasonable act which is therefore acceptable. The Church has stated that when death is inevitable and extreme treatments would only continue a "precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted" therefore meaning that passive euthanasia is okay in certain circumstances as long as the person is still being loved and cared for.

Alison Davis' opinion is similar to that of the Catholic Church except it comes from a much more personal place. Alison Davis was born disabled by myelomeningocele spina bifida. When she was born she wasn't expected to live and as stated in her article, "Right to Life of the Handicapped," "my parents were encouraged to leave me in the hospital and 'go home and have another' and I owe my life to the fact that they refused to accept the advice of the experts." At the time Alison Davis wrote this article there was a bill in consideration to be passed "permitting doctors to withhold treatment from newborn handicapped babies." Alison Davis obviously felt personally offended by this saying that they were expressing that the handicapped had "no worthwhile quality of life" and they weren't treating the handicapped babies as people and that they're not giving proper defense to the babies who are being "oh so lovingly 'allowed to die.' "

The next case, Chris Hill, brings us to the other end of the spectrum where a handicapped person decides he would rather die than life in his current condition. Chris Hill, a man paralyzed from the neck down after a hang-gliding accident, thought it was better to not be alive than to live in his current quadrapeligic state. Prior to his accident, Chris Hill lived an extremely active life and traveled the globe having fun and experimenting in various aspects of life. So, his loss was much more shocking to him than it would have been if he had lived a more stationary, less exciting life. He didn't see a reason to continue living and said his "tomorrows were nothing but a grey void of bleak despair" and stated "I lost my dignity and self-respect." After a few years, he said "I would rather die than return to hospital" as he was a frequent visitor to them. He saw no way out of his life, which he considered unbearable, except death. He attempted suicide four times before he finally succeeded in 1993. At the end of his suicide note he stated, "I absolutely forbid anyone to resuscitate or interfere with me while I continue to live, unless it is to end my suffering. Anyone who disregards this notice will be committing a civil and criminal offense against me."

The Dutch have the extreme opposite opinion as the Catholics, as I am sure you are aware of. There is a clinic in the Netherlands called Dignitas that euthanizes people who are extremely disabled or terminally ill. Doctors can perform voluntary active euthanasia somewhat legally. Terminal care doctor, Pieter Admiraal states in his article, "Listening and Helping to Die: The Dutch Way" that "Active voluntary euthanasia is but one more way of delivering humane medical care." Which is the common consensus of doctors at Dignitas and elsewhere. Sometimes the physicians who perform this kind of medical treatment are prosecuted by various people against active euthanasia but are rarely convicted.

The Dutch reject the common idea that euthanasia is a slippery slope that will lead to exterminating people who are deemed "unfit to live" as the Nazis did several decades ago. The physicians of Dignitas believe that every human being has the right to die with dignity and no one should be denied that fundamental human right. Some people against euthanasia believe that it will disrupt the doctor-patient relationship because the patients will believe that their doctors will kill them when they become too expensive or too much trouble. In response, Pieter Admiraal states "On the contrary, the acceptance of active voluntary euthanasia has improved the relationship. Patients know they that they can count on their doctors when they need them most..." He believes patients should be able to say "Enough is enough. I want to die with my dignity intact. Please help me." and be assisted in carrying out that action.

As can be guessed, the Dutch are as okay with passive euthanasia as they are with active euthanasia, even going so far as to thinking active euthanasia is even more morally correct than passive. Admiraal states "Very often passive euthanasia is morally worse than active euthanasia. It is morally worse in all those cases where we inflict on a patient a way of dying that he or she does not want, and finds unacceptable and undignified." Admiraal, along with many of the other Dutch vouch for personal autonomy to make one's own decisions and states that when a doctor does not allow a patient to die they "fail to take seriously that patients own evaluation of suffering and pain. In short, we fail to respect the patient as a self-determining person." Admiraal even states that pain is not even the leading cause of asking to be euthanized and that it is, in fact, "because of loss of strength and fatigue, loss of human dignity, and complete dependence..." which eradicates the issue of a patient not being able to evaluate their own pain at all.

Now it's time for the hard part; my own opinion. Well, here it goes. I disagree with the Catholic, Dutch and Alison Davis perspective as well as with several other articles and stories we have read. No offense to you, Sister Mary Rose, but I don't think that the Catholic Church should try to block active euthanasia from being legalized because I feel that there needs to be a separation of church and state and by doing that the Catholic Church is trying to bring church and state together. I know you think that it was wrong for Terri Schiavo to be passively euthanized because she was still alive, but I don't think she really was. Her body may have been alive, but her soul was dead. I think keeping her partly alive for 15 years was wrong and inhumane because she wasn't coming back and she was not being allowed to be put completely to rest. Her brain activity was gone and she was in a permanent vegetative state. It seems selfish to me for her family to keep her alive just because they couldn't let go.

After we watched the award-winning, controversial movie "Million Dollar Baby" in class, we read an article written by a handicapped person in response to it. In the movie, after the main character Maggie, becomes a quadrapeligic after her neck is broken in a boxing accident, she tries to live for a while, but then asks her coach, Frankie, to euthanize her, which he does. As stated in the article by Diane Coleman, "As the movie unfolded to its star-powered conclusion, audience members sniffled in pitiful admiration of Maggie's determination to die rather than move on and leave her non-disabled life behind." Coleman then realized that she thought no one in the audience could imagine Maggie leading a happy life as a quadrapeligic and felt that the movie assaulted disabled people and labeled them as unfit to live. In my opinion, Coleman took it a little too far. Life as a quadrapeligic may suit her and be livable to her, but it isn't to everyone. Maggie lived a wonderful life, I don't think it was wrong of her to choose to die after such a fulfilling life. Coleman seems to think that anyone who makes a movie glorifying euthanasia is evil and is directly devaluing her life. I don't think she should take it as personally as she does, I understand how she might be offended but seeing the people who made this movie as these horrible anti-disabled people is just taking it too far for me. It's just a movie. There are offensive movies all the time and people don't take it as a direct attack on their lives.

No matter how much I think mercy should be delivered and people should be able to exercise autonomy, my heart will always be against euthanasia. Something about it bothers me to my very core. We watched the video of a man who traveled to the Netherlands to be euthanized and the room he was in and how they did it just irked me. It was so medical and so cold and I don't think I could ever die that way. When I mentioned that in a Socratic seminar we had in class, Mr. Geib said that maybe thinking there's something weird about euthanasia is not being able to accept death and maybe if we accepted death we would be stronger people. I don't agree with that. I do think we should be able to accept that we will one day die and we should do things to prepare for that, like make advance directives and wills, but I think it is only normal to feel uncomfortable with death and I worry about people who are totally comfortable with it. Not fearing death makes life too casual and I see that in a lot of people in my class and it scares me. People are just so nonchalant about it as if a single life doesn't matter. I've seen people who think of lives as numbers, of people as numbers and that seems closer to Nazi Germany than active euthanasia does. The last time I didn't fear death at all and was perfectly comfortable with it I became suicidal, because I felt that I was just one person and one person doesn't matter in a world of seven billion people. That's why it seems so wrong to me to think that way, because humans were not born to take life for granted. Humans are born with a natural will to live; it's literally instinctual.

So, in summation. I do think people should be able to exercise their personal autonomy if they are terminally ill. But sometimes the people who are paralyzed don't even seem to try hard enough to live, like Ramon Sanpedro who never even got a wheelchair and Dan James who didn't even give his life a chance. The terminally ill should be able to exercise personal autonomy, and the severely disabled should give disabled life a good try and then if they can never come to terms with it, be allowed to exercise personal autonomy as well.

Thank you again for coming and visiting our class and answering everybody's questions. Your visit was widely appreciated by everyone.

Emilia C