Dear Sister Mary Rose,

Hello, my name is Jennifer and I would like to extend my warmest thanks to you for coming to speak with our bioethics class as we concluded our unit studying the value of human life and euthanasia. I was raised by a Christian family however I myself am not particularly religious. That being said I found it interesting to get to hear the viewpoint of the Catholic Church on the value of the human life and the issue of euthanasia.


The Catholic stance as far as I understand based on the Declaration of Euthanasia, penned in 1980 by Franjo Card. Seper, a Prefect of the Catholic Church, is fairly straight forward. Catholics are against any type of euthanasia since they hold human life as the “basis of all good”; and believe that “intentionally causing one's own death, or suicide, is therefore equally as wrong as murder”. Committing such an act that would take away the life given by God is considered to be a "rejection of God's sovereignty and loving plan". For many, human life is regarded as sacred causing it to not be disposed of at will. The Catholic Church see life as something greater, they see life as “a gift of God’s love, which they are called upon to preserve and make fruitful”.


When it comes to euthanasia the Catholic Church defines it as such based on today’s standards rather than the original meaning. Euthanasia in ancient times meant an “easy death” that would not include suffering. Euthanasia is refined according to the parameters of today to be an intervention of medicine where the final agony or suffering of the sick is reduced. Catholics therefore stand against euthanasia as it not only ends the life of a human which was previously deemed immoral in any form; it also includes “the danger of suppressing life prematurely”. It is moreover believed that “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”. The Catholic Church holds that what a sick person truly needs is not euthanasia but love; to be surrounded by those close to them and to be cared for on the human level. To ask for one’s own death or to consent to it cannot be considered legally alright as “it is a question of the violation of the divine law” when dealing with the sanctity of life. To euthanize an individual would be “an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity.”

With the regards to treatment of those gravely ill the Catholic Church allows use of pain medication to reduce the suffering believing that it would be “imprudent to impose a heroic way of acting as a general rule”. Some Christian however would support moderation of their pain medication in order to voluntarily accept some of the pain given to them as an association with the suffering and crucifixion of Christ. Catholics allow the use of pain medication that will alleviate or suppress the pain even though it may cause “a secondary effect [of] semi consciousness and reduced lucidity”. However if the pain medication causes unconsciousness special consideration must be given since the person still needs to be able to “satisfy his or her moral duties and family obligations”. The Declaration on Euthanasia also posed the question “is it necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies?” after which it spoke that a person is “never obliged to use extraordinary means”. Extraordinary means are to be considered that which are not readily available to a sick individual or if the possible benefits of the treatment are outweighed by the level of risk or potential burden that could be a result from the treatment. In this light passive euthanasia is far more accepted by the Catholic Church than active euthanasia.


Alison Davis is an individual who holds views very similar to those of the Catholic Church. At the age of 28 she wrote the Article Right to Life of Handicapped where she shares her views on life and euthanasia based off of her experience of living with myelomeningocele spina bifida since she was born and expresses her distaste for a bill drafted that would withhold treatment from newborn handicapped babies. During her 28 years of life Mrs. Davis has suffered “considerable and prolonged pain” and undergone over 20 operations, some essential in saving her life and she is currently confined to a wheelchair. Despite all her hardships Mrs. Davis went on to study at a university and earned an honours degree in sociology and now works full time to defend the rights of the handicapped people. Mrs. Davis also leads a fulfilling personal life with eight years of happy marriage, to an “able-bodied man”, during which they have travelled widely in Europe, the United States, and the Soviet Union with plan to go visit the Far East next. Looking at how much she has accomplice and experienced she questions who could ever say that she has “no worthwhile quality of life”. Alison Davis believes that while the advice the doctors had given to her parents upon her birth to abandon her may have been in good faith they were incorrect. She now fights against this notion of “non-person-hood” that denies handicapped people the right to be recognized as “equal human beings in a caring society”.

Chris Hill represents the polar opposite of the spectrum of views on euthanasia. He lived to the extremes, experiencing life to the fullest at every turn up until his hang-gliding accident. The once lively young man was now paralysed from the chest down. He had spent years travelling the world experiencing “more than most people would in several lifetimes”. This man who had been constantly active, always on the go was now confined to him own head, unable to move his body. He lost the ability to regulate his body temperature. Basic bodily functions had to be preformed manually. His once strong nerves and muscles withered away and his ankles required nightly draining do to swelling. Mr. Hill’s list of overwhelming agonies grew to include tinea, crutch rot, and headaches, “the list of horrors was endless, and I haven’t even mentioned the worst ones”. The Note was the letter Chris Hill left behind when he committed suicide. He had received ample care for his condition and had supportive and caring family and friends. Never the less life no longer held the same value for Mr. Hill as before once it became “an awful parody of normalcy”. He was never given “the choice of a dignified death” that is given to animals who suffer even the tiniest bit of pain he felt. He brings his final letter to a close eagerly embracing death stating that “Suicide is not a crime and I have the right not to be handled or treated against my will”.

In the Netherlands active euthanasia is legally accepted and practiced. Pieter Admiraal, a Senior Anaesthetist and doctor of forty years at the Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis practices active euthanasia “openly and unashamedly”.
Admiraal goes on to express that active euthanasia is not only “morally right” but “is sometimes required
by them [doctors]” and that a failure to practice “voluntary euthanasia under some circumstances is to fail the patient”. Active euthanasia has been allowed in the Netherlands for a while and the idea of this "slippery slope" that will take away the rights of the disabled has yet to happen. Mr. Admiraal stated that he does not believe in a slippery slope as 'a clear moral and legal boundary can be drawn around the notion of consent".He speaks of how the patient's views should be the ultimate determination in whether or not their life is bearable and brings up the case of Esther as a prime example. Admiraal met Esther, suffering form multiple sclerosis, in June of 1983 in a denominational nursing home. She was asking for active euthanasia. She questioned passive euthanasia wondering " why should I have to suffer first, before you help me die?". After actively euthanizing Esther Pieter Admiraal faced prosecution that was later dropped when Dr. Kuiert gave evidence that he believe the action was "morally acceptable". Even Lord Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, said the he views voluntary euthanasia as "part of proper medical care" when surrounded with certain regulation, safeguards and conditions.

In my opinion the movie Million Dollar Baby seemed to glorify active euthanasia. That being said I still agree with the decision of Frankie to euthanize Maggie since she made her intentions of wanting to die clear whether he would help her or not. Active euthanasia should be allowed in extreme cases such as Maggie’s. When a patient is gravely sick or disabled to the point where they do not find value in their life they should be permitted to have physician assisted euthanasia without the fear that aforementioned physician will get into legal trouble for aiding them in their wishes. If an individual comes to a point in their life where the physical pain of a disease or deformity is so great that they cannot cope after years of medical and family aid they should have the choice to die. That being said euthanasia is an issue of a person’s life and regulations therefore should be strictly upheld whether it is passive or active euthanasia.

In the case of Dr. Kevorkian I agree with his ideals of honouring the will of the individual and respecting their body yet I find some of the methods in which he carried out his practice distasteful, such as euthanizing his first patient in the back of his car. However when considering the restrictions and regulations he had to go up against I believe he did the best he could to help his patients with what was available to him. He did not go around killing people on a whim. He simply answered the wishes of those that contacted him expressing a desire to die as their life was now to difficult or burdensome due to whatever ailment they had. Dr. Kevorkian should not be seen as a murder as even at the last moment if an individual changed their mind he would not proceed.

The physically disabled may argue that allowing euthanasia is a slippery slope but I disagree. There is an astronomical difference between allowing someone to take control of their own life and choose to die when faced with the alternative of months of suffering and killing someone simply because they have a disability. Those that are disabled should be encouraged to live; not forced.

I would like to end this letter by thanking you once more for coming to speak with our bioethics class to explain the views of the Catholic Church. Your consideration and time were greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Jennifer