Dear Sister Mary Rose,

Thank you for coming into our class to discuss the issue of euthanasia. Personally, religion does not play a huge role of my life. My very best friend is shares your Catholic faith; we do not talk very much on issues, such as this particular one. I really appreciate the time that you took out of your busy schedule to share the Catholic stance on the topic of euthanasia.

I truly respect the Catholic position on this issue. I have a high opinion of people who choose to continue to live a life that involves severe suffering or hardship, especially because of my best friend and everything that she goes through. The idea that all life is sacred and should therefore be preserved strikes a chord, so to say, within me. I like this idea that everyone should value life in an immense esteem and should cherish every moment of it. The thing that I have a difficult time coming to terms with, however, is the absolute truths that the Catholic Church blankets upon all of society and of humanity. Believers firmly support the notion that “nobody and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being” and that “no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing…nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.” These blanket statements are meant to encompass all of humanity, including believers as well as non-believers. Catholics believe in a set of morals and ethical codes that every human being should live by; these beliefs should be the baseline set of values that everyone should possess. This idea and this principle that everyone should have the same conviction perplexes me. It is clear and rather obvious that every individual that has ever lived, lives, or will live someday is completely unique and distinctive in their personality, mindset, and set of values. How can the Catholic Church expect everyone to possess the exact same ideology and beliefs? It is plain to see that this is not a plausible scenario and that the Catholic Church holds some very narrow-minded opinions when it speaks in absolutes.

A second concept that I have a difficult time coming to terms with is the disregard to the personal autonomy of person in poor health. Catholics believe 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. What a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love.” The Catholic Church is basically implying that sick people do not know what is best for them. They do not know what they need and if they ask to be euthanized, then just forget about that and hand them a stuffed animal. That will surely help. They don’t know what they’re asking for and it doesn’t matter if they do. This lack of respect to the sick and suffering stirs up a lot of irritation within me. I know that in my short summary of the Catholic position was mocking and can also seem quite disrespectful. I am aware of that, but it was intentional. This mirrors the lack of respect that I feel for the gravely ill person asking for some relief and for an escape from the suffering that they have endured. I do admire the person who perseveres through this pain and through their medical afflictions for what they believe in. I applaud them. But here, in this circumstance, I feel that I must stand up for the person who is being forced to bear a painful burden that they do not have a desire to.

In short, the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue of euthanasia is one of a protection and of a defense of how life is sacred. Catholics believe that withstanding suffering all the way to the end of life is what everybody should do in every circumstance. There is a certain baseline of beliefs that everyone should possess and they should uphold the value of life to a very high standard. The preservation of life is the central belief and life should therefore be conserved and sustained.
In the circumstance of Alison Davis, the topic of religion and faith is not as essential in the attack on euthanasia. Alison Davis was born with an irreversible physical disability, myelomeningocele spina bifida. Her parents were “encouraged to leave [her] in the hospital and ‘go home and have another.’” If her parents had not ignored the advice of the medical professionals, Alison would not be alive to live the full and happy life that she does. This is why she is against euthanasia and the withholding of treatment from newborn handicapped babies. Alison touched on the idea that the more often that euthanasia is permitted, the more it will become an acceptable practice within society. By allowing handicapped newborns to expire instead of helping to sustain their lives, it is going unsaid that the lives of these newborns do not hold as much value as the lives of healthy newborns. In my opinion, Alison has some extremely valid points. Who are the doctors to decide that she has “no worthwhile quality of life”? Why do these people get to decide who lives and who dies? Why should that be legal anywhere? Although I do not necessarily agree with all of Alison’s ideas, I find many of her points to be tremendously convincing and persuasive.

However, not all disabled people are against euthanasia. A man named Chris Hill was paralyzed from the chest down in a hang gliding accident. This happened to him after he had traveled the world and had been living life up to his highest potential. After his accident, Chris lost the will to live. In his case, euthanasia was viewed as an escape from a body that was imprisoning him and keeping him from living the life that he wanted to live. If can’t live on his own terms, then he wants to die on his own terms. Chris felt that he had “lost all dignity and self respect. [He] would forever be a burden on those around [him] and [he] didn’t want that no matter how willingly and unthinkingly family and friends assumed that burden.” Chris contemplated for years about his high quality of life and whether or not he wanted to end it. He could not push past what he had lost and therefore decided that he had no wish to live anymore. In his suicide note, he stated “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.”

Perhaps the most polar stance from the Catholic one is the view of the people in the Netherlands. The attitude of the people that live in this country (for the most part) is accurately described in the words of Pieter Admiraal, a doctor from the Netherlands who is also the Senior Anaesthetist at the Reinier de Graaf Gasthuis (a large general hospital in the city of Delft). He says, “I regard [euthanasia] as sometimes morally right, as not only compatible with the properly understood duties and responsibilities of a doctor, but as an act sometimes required by them. To fail to practice voluntary euthanasia under some circumstances is to fail the patient.” In the Netherlands, if a terminally ill, suffering patient requests physician assisted suicide, a chain of events is started. The palliative care is examined to be sure that the doctors performed the best care that the patient could possibly receive under the circumstance. There are several meeting involving the hospital chaplain, the nurses and doctors that were involved in the care of the patient, the patient’s family, and of course the patient themself. The option of euthanasia is thoroughly discussed and is not a decision that is made lightly.

In the Netherlands, it is believed that “it would be quite improper for doctors or other health care professionals to impose their values and their understanding of pain or suffering on the patient.” Euthanasia is seen as a valid option and not as something taboo or to be feared. I like this system where many people consider the option- no one is actively advocating euthanasia or imposing it upon anyone else. It is ultimately the patient's decision and right to decide their own fate.
I am a strong believer that everyone should have the right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies and their own lives. Personally, I would not choose to end my life. But that is my decision and I have no right to force other people to make the same decision. Everyone should be allowed to be in control of their own lives, because it is their body and nobody else has the authority to make that decision for them. No one else besides the person who is suffering can decide whether or not their life is worth living. They should not be forced to live if they have no desire to. I am not saying that suicide is a decision that should be made spontaneously or without careful consideration, but it is a choice that everyone should be allowed to make on their own. Catholics should be allowed to believe in whatever they want, but they have no right to impose their own belief system onto other people. The entire basis for this country was to allow people to have the right to freely practice their own beliefs without persecution. The Catholic Church is directly violating this when they try to create universal truths that every human being should abide by. All in all, personal autonomy is extremely important and should be respected. Situations vary from person to person, but all of their opinions and personal beliefs need to be addressed and considered without being disregarded.

In class, we watched a movie called 'Million Dollar Baby.' I'm sure after reading all of these letters, you are familiar with the plot and with the story. This is a movie that my parents have been trying to convince me to watch for years now. The simply wanted me to watch because it is an award-winning movie with an actor or two that they like. I have successfully resisted them, but I was required to watch the film in Bioethics. I mostly didn't want to watch because of the violence and the aggression between the different fights. After watching, I now know that I was right in the statement that I would not like the movie. Not only because of the violence, but because of the outcome. I am an advocate for the right to die and for euthanasia, depending on the case and on the circumstances. I want people to be able to decide for themselves about whether or not they should be allowed to live. However, I would not choose this path for myself, which is what makes me feel uncomfortable. I respect Maggie's decision, I'm glad that she got what she desired, but I would not choose that for myself.

On the subject of advanced directives, I believe that it is a recommendable idea that people should seriously consider. You don't want to end up like Terry Schiavo, without the option or capability to choose your fate for yourself. Everyone should be able to live and to die the way that they decide, not the way that other decide for you.

Sister Mary Rose, thank you again for coming to our class and for reading this letter. I do not mean to offend in any way; I am simply sharing with you my perspective and ideas.

Thanks again,
Katie T.