Dear Sister Mary Rose,

First off, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to come and talk to our class. Even though many of us (myself included) already hold our own views on the subject of euthanasia, we all extremely appreciated your time and patience.

Delving straight into the topic, I was brought up in a relatively unreligious household and no hold no religious affiliation myself. Most of my extended family are very Catholic, meaning mass every Sunday, die-hard Catholics. Growing up with my cousins and their parents, I know quite a bit about Catholicism, but I had never thought about how it would connect to issues such as euthanasia until this class. Although I respect the Catholic point of view, that every life is a gift from God and it is a sin to take one’s own life, just as it is to take another’s, I find flaws in the logic, as I do not hold the same faith. As you very well know, the Catholic point of view is that it is a crime against humanity, the person and God to kill one’s self or kill another person and that there are no circumstances with which to allow some leniency. But, when the Catholic Church talks about protecting the “sanctity of life at all costs”, I must ask, who are they to protect all life? I can understand protecting a member of the church or a person that is dying and wants to be saved, but why must it be the duty of the church to “protect” the life of a stranger who no longer wants to bear it? To me, “protection” can be extended so far in some cases, as entrapment. If laws were to be passed in this country denying a terminally ill person the right to choose their own death, and the Catholic church’s views were made a law, could you look into the eyes of a woman dying an excruciating death with late stage bone cancer and tell her “no, you must suffer this torture, because God will take you when he chooses”? I know that it was mentioned that every Catholic believes there is a time of suffering they have to endure in their lifetime, not unlike that of Jesus Christ. They believe that it is necessary, and it is their sacrifice during their lifetime. But, for someone who is not Catholic, is this right? Is it right to extend your beliefs so far onto someone who is of a different faith that you are allowing them to suffer? Or even in the cases of pain killers, palliative care can only do so much. In many cases, if that person is to be actually relieved of their pain, they have to have such a high dose of morphine that they are no longer conscious, the same state as if they were just to alleviate that pain sooner by dying. If they go to Hell, essentially, you can try and do so much as to persuade them, but if they still carry through with the act of taking their own life, is it really your right to stop them? As I probably (and hopefully as inoffensively as I could) have made clear, I do not personally believe that anyone should be denied the right to die when they choose. I do not in any way condone suicide, but I do not believe that anyone should be denied the right to die when they see fit. I do not believe that the government, the church, or any other person or set faith should decide when a person dies or does not die, either way. Especially in the cases of terminally ill patients, I believe that those who want to end their lives should have the comfortable and available means to do so.

That being said, Alison Davis's letter is an interesting point of view that agrees with the Catholic position, but comes from a disabled person herself. According to Ms. Davis, it is highly demeaning to handicapped persons that euthanasia should be available to them if they so choose. Alison was born with myelomeningocele spina bifida, a crippling disease that has caused her to suffer "considerable and prolonged pain from time to time" and to have undergone "over 20 operations thus far, some of them essential to save [her] life". Her position on denying severely handicapped babies (like she once was)the most extreme care available, even though most of them die in infancy, is that the health care system should continue to do so, like in the 1950's. She, like you Sister, full heartedly agrees with the position that you should "protect life at all costs" even if it means the definition of living is looking at the same four walls your whole life hooked up to a respirator and a feeding tube.

On the exact opposite of the spectrum is a man by the name of Chris Hill and his story. Chris was a very active young man, living life as an adventure, traveling to new places and perhaps more than twenty countries in his lifetime. He lived and breathed adrenaline and experiencing new cultures was his way of living life. But, tragically, all this came to an end when he had a hang gliding accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, still a young man. He could no longer accomplish the most simple of every day tasks, let alone walk. The man whose entire life was composed of moving and experiencing was now glued to a wheelchair, unable to dress himself. He experienced horribly unimaginable pain and psychological trauma, and for years he tried with everything he had to learn how to live. Once the doctors told him he needed a second surgery to try and fix even more damage in his spinal column. This man, who was not even what you would consider “terminally ill” was dying psychologically. No amount of love or grace could ease his suffering that would have likely, lasted the remainder of his years. Chris Hill’s view on his suicide was that unlike those who could stand to live in such miserable conditions, he wanted to end his life. It was his choice, and his decision to make. You see, from my perspective, there is always some point that a person hits where life is no longer “living” but “existing”. This man was not Catholic, he was not even a firm believer in God, but he knew that regardless of any consequences, life for him was unlivable. The doctors in the Netherlands such as Pieter Admiral, who practice voluntary euthanasia, see it as ensuring the well-being of their patients, psychologically and physically, and respecting their autonomy. The Catholic Church may see euthanasia or suicide as disrespecting their same autonomy, but my view is that one has to be able to have a choice in their life. To me, we are each to our own, in that we do not choose to begin living that is decided for us but we should have the choice to die.

Respectfully yours,
Lia M