Dear Sister Mary Rose,

I would like to start out by thanking you for taking the time out of your day to come and speak to our class about the Catholic position concerning the polemical topic of Euthanasia. Your presence taught me a greater understanding of the Catholic stance on the issue and gave me a better insight to the faith itself. It is one thing to be taught about the stance and faith from a teacher to student perspective, but to have an actual member of the church come and speak was a wonderful opportunity no matter the possible disagreement in stances or views.

From the time that I have spent learning about Euthanasia and the many view points on the issue, a sort of "spectrum" in view points can be seen. On the far right, or conservative, if you will, side of the spectrum, the Catholic view point resides. The sanity of life and its preservation at all stages is the most important factor and human right in the Catholic view point on Euthanasia. When challenged by opposing view points, "it is obviously wrong to have recourse to arguments from political pluralism or religious freedom in order to deny the universal value of those rights." There is no room for a differing view point regarding another religion or political stance. "Human life is the basis of all goods", and to make and attempt on an innocent life is therefore committing a crime of the utmost consequences. It can be concluded that the Catholic point of view is black and white. There is no middle ground or complex situation to accept Euthanasia as an acceptable means to end ones pain or suffering. As in the cases of "ordinary" means of saving a life, no human has the right to deny these measures. It is only in cases of "extraordinary" means that a patient has the right to deny treatment. Suffering, especially in the last moments of life, can be seen to be sharing "Christ's Passion" and because of this, has a special place in life. Ideally, the Catholic position is that Euthanasia should never be an option considered or recommended in the world, "for it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack of humanity."

Moving slightly left on the spectrum comes the views of the Allison Davis, a Spina Bifida patient and a member of the "Not Dead Yet" organization. Made up entirely of disabled people, the "Not Dead Yet" movement openly opposes Euthanasia and has many protests against the practice of it. As seen in the controversial and problematic cases of Terri Shiavo and Beth Ann Cruzan. Both young women were involved in serious, but separate car accidents that resulted in the two women being pronounced brain dead and only allowed to live with the help of advanced life support twenty-four seven. The Terri Shiavo case turned out to be an issue that paved the way for pro- and anti-Euthanasia advocates everywhere. What made the case so difficult for Terri Shaivo was the absence of an "advanced directive" to tell the medical team caring for the young mother of her wishes when put in a condition like herself. Years later, the case still struggled on. The Shiavo family wished for her not be taken off life support, claiming that "she was still there". However, Mr. Shiavo, wished for her to be taken off. The debate raged on as to who the medical team should listen to and resulted in professionals asking Terri Shiavo's childhood friends as if they were to known what she would have wanted. The case turned into a national debate with ongoing protests with the public and the family of Terri Shiavo at the throats of the medical team along with Mr. Shiavo. The final decision was made to listen to the "closest family member at the time" (being her ex-husband) and to take her off the life support. She was taken off her feeding tube and Mrs. Shiavo died twelve days later ending in rage from the "Not Dead Yet" movement and protesters of the case, who upon hearing that she would be taken off the feeding tube attempted to break into the hospital and place it back in her. Members of this organization all claim to lead very fulfilling lives despite their own conditions and feel as though the topic of Euthanasia is the "slippery slope" placing a target on the heads of disabled people everywhere, a very common critique of Euthanasia. Members of the "Not Dead Yet" movement are fearful of where to drawn the line on this issue. Many do not oppose Euthanasia itself in the last few days on a terminal illness but do strongly oppose it in cases of non terminal, but only debilitating conditions. The stance of Allison Davis and the "Not Dead Yet" movement is slightly more liberal in the sense of rarely allowing Euthanasia, however, similar to the Catholic point of view in its strong opposition for it.

Next on the spectrum is the case of Chris Hill. Mr. Hill lived a very fulfilling life. He had great parents who gave him a fulfilling and adventroud childhood. He traveled the world and had many experiences one may never get the chance to have. While hang gliding one day, young Chris Hill crashed, resulting in the man who lived his life to the max and who lived as if there were no tomorrow, being paralyzed from the chest down. Post accident, Chris Hill was to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair; something the world traveler had never thought he would do. Mr. Hill lived in his condition for many years, slowly considering more and more, his death. In his suicide note, Chris Hill tells of his terrible condition. "I lost my dignity and self-respect. I would forever be a burden on those around me and I didn't want that no matter how willingly and unthinkingly family and friends assumed that burden." Mr. Hill goes on to add the unbearable suffering he faced and the loss of dignity because of it. Chris Hill lived for many years in his condition, claiming that he would grow to accept it and face the challenge head on. This mind set quickly faded for him and he slowly came to accept death as his only way out of his suffering. Chris claims that he was never given the possibility of a "dignified death", much like society gives an animal when it is suffering. Opposing the Catholic point of view, Chris Hill states, "I could accept that accidents happen and rarely asked 'why me?', but I felt that the legislature's and the medical profession's attitude of life at any cost was an inhumane presumption that amounted to arrogance." He did not know why he was kept alive when he could no longer contribute to society but instead costing taxpayers at least one hundred and fifty thousand dollars (money that he claims, "would not have been wasted had anybody bothered to ask me how I felt about the whole thing and what I'd like to do.") It is people such as Chris Hill and others like Ramon San Pedro, paralyzed from the neck down and who fought for his right to die for over thirty years, who feel as though death should be an option for the non-terminal who face "unbearable suffering" in their condition.

Moving into the "far left" side of the spectrum, the Netherlands point of view can be found. Pieter Admiraal, a doctor at the Reiner de Graaf Gasthis, a large 800-bed general hospital in the Dutch city of Delft, practices active voluntary euthanasia - he claims, "openly and unashamedly." Dr. Admiraal claims that he "practices it openly because he is fortunate to live a country that allows doctors to do so." He goes on to add that he is not ashamed by this fact because he regards active voluntary euthanasia as morally right. Dr. Admiraal believes "to fail to practice voluntary euthanasia is to fail the patient." In the Netherlands, voluntary euthanasia is not only allowed, but considered quite frequently as a means to end ones suffering. In the Netherlands, doctors such as Dr. Adirmaal, work with a specialized team who all evaluate and decide a patient's wish to die. He goes on to tell of a story of one of his patients. He tells the story of Carla, a devout Catholic and cancer patient who's condition worsened over the course of some years. In her final and worse relapse after beating her cancer many times, she asked for the option of euthanasia, claiming "God could not have wanted this" and was convinced that she would "live on in Heaven". After her wishes were evaluated by Dr. Admiraal and his colleagues made up of Carla's gynecologist and Roman Catholic chaplain, a hesitant, but affirmative decision was made to respect the wishes of their patient. The day came when Carla was surrounded by her loved ones and Dr. Admiraal, who administered the drugs that would stop her heart. He claims, "Carla fell asleep with a smile on her face. She died eight minutes later on August 6th, 1990." Dr. Admiraal, along with some of western Europe, take the opposite point of view of the Catholic position. Their views take more of a "moral obligation" on the matter and believe that they are choosing the "right" decision by helping their terminally ill patients die, when requested.

Not far from the Netherlands, this same principle can be seen. In Zurich, Switzerland, Dignitas, a clinic devoted to the "Right to Die" movement lies. The clinic specializes in assistance to help their patients end their own lives. The qualifications are fairly simple. One does not even have to be terminally-ill, only faced with a "unbearable condition", which is open to interpretation by patient and doctor. This can be seen in the curious case of Dan James. Originally from England, Dan James was just twenty three when the aspiring and talented rugby player was involved in a spinal cord accident while playing the sport he loved. Mr. James was left paralyzed from the waist down, never to walk again. Much like Chris Hill, Dan James could not accept this life. Death on his own terms, was a more dignifying way out than to be taunted by the hell he now lived in. Dan James, accompanied and escorted by his parents, was brought to Dignitas. He died some days later. Critics of Dignitas, including Dr. Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing Alliance, which campaigns against assisted suicide, much like the "Not Dead Yet" movement, believes "we are on a slippery slope towards too easily condoning assisted suicide." He goes on to add that at Dignitas, it started with people with cancer and with motor neuron disease, then went to chronically ill people and those with conditions such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis where their life expectancy isn't necessarily shortened." Critics of Euthanasia such as Dr. Saunders are fearful for the future.

This same ideology is not far from home, either. In states such Oregon, Washington, and Montana, physician assisted suicide in the last days of life is legal. This leaves some Americans fearful that it may one day be the norm to commit suicide and no longer a taboo. The "slippery slope" of Euthanasia will grip the American medical community and leave us pointing fingers, better yet, opening up a "suicide clinic" of our own. Imagine downtown Ventura. Among the variety of restaurants and bars, the thrift shops and clothing stores, and right next to the movie theater, is our very own clinic like that of Dignitas, where one may walk in and never come out. This scenario may not be far from our reach and may even be the case in my lifetime. This "worst case scenario" has some very hesitant about what to do regarding the issue. On the other hand, advocates for the right to die, who feel that ones body is their own property, feel as though personal autonomy should be respected and the matter is up the individual to choose. An individual is left to make their own interpretation about the matter after considering all of the very differing view points. That is why I side with the Netherlands point of view, with the views of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, whose life mission was to help the terminally ill, and with the view point that we are all in control of our own body. Now, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was on the right track in advocating for the right to die. His methods and decisions were at times, poor, to say the least, however I do feel as though his work ended the suffering of many - all of which wanted an end. I do not believe a healthy and normal individual like myself should commit suicide without proper cause. However, I do feel someone who is in a terrible state of life, no matter the reason for their pain, has the right to escape their pain. Now, if that means that death is the best option and they do not bring anyone else into their situation, legally speaking, than I fully support their choice. I believe that everyone should make an advanced directive in order to avoid a situation such as the one of Terri Shiavo, and many others. The medical team should know what to do in order to respect the wishes of the patient. A decision as difficult as life and death should not be taken lightly and should be up the patient one hundred percent of the time.

A modern film that relates to my point of view is "Million Dollar Baby". In the film, Maggie Fitzgerald, played by Hilary Swank, who was raised through poverty, and now faces poverty everyday, trains to become a professional boxer with the help of her primarily reluctant and stubborn coach, Frankie Dunn, played by Clint Eastwood. Maggie, who becomes one of the best women boxers ever to compete in the sport, rises to fame, wealth, and status; something the star never thought would happen. She "does something" with her life and accomplishes her lifetime goal. While in the title fight, Fitzgerald boxes one of the most challenging and dirty players in the sport. Known to throw unfair punches and cheat, her opponent battles a tough and unfair fight for the title. Her fate is decided when her opponent, after the round has been called, throws a punch when Fitzgerald's back is turned. Maggie Fitzgerald ends up breaking her neck from the fall and is allowed only to live by the breathing machine and life support, keeping her alive twenty-four seven. Fitzgerald's condition and moral slowly deteriorates as she succumbs to her new found condition. Slowly coming to terms with death, she asks her now father-like figure and coach, to "pull the plug" on her suggesting that she has lived the life she has always wanted. She claims that she was a severely premature infant and "fought for her way into this world", and she will "fight for her way out." Fitzgerald's wish to die is evident by her decision to bite her own tongue, hoping to bleed out. After doctors and nurses have to sedate her in order to keep her from killing herself, she is left under permanent hospital care. Her coach, a troubled Catholic, who against the will of his priest, attends Church every Sunday, is severely torn about what to do for this young women. He fears the sin that will accompany him in helping kill her but also the knowledge of her condition and his refusal to respect her wishes also haunts him. Late at night, he goes into her room, says his last goodbyes, pulls the plug on her life support, injects her with a dose of adrenaline sure to stop her heart, waits for her to flat line, and leaves. I do believe that in this terrible and troubling situation that he did make the morally right decision in assisting her suicide. Now, if I were in this situation, I would have sought the help of a clinic like that if Dignitas, in order to legally help her in the right to die but I do feel as though helping her die was the right thing to do considering her state of mind.

I would like to thank you again for taking the time to teach our class about the Catholic stance on Euthanasia. I know that we may not see eye to eye on the issue but I'm glad that I was able to better understand your views on the complex topic. I have the utmost respect for you and your views but hope that you can understand people for their character and not to judge someone on their views, but by the way that they help to contribute a positive influence on their world and the world around them. We all come from different places, different cultures, and from different beliefs but I hope that these insignificant factors one day do not hinder us from moving forward as a society and to be good people, not because of whatever religion we are labeled with or what political stance orders us to, but because we choose to.

Sincerely and with all due respect,
Lee B
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