Dear Sister Mary Rose,

My name is Sarah, and, though it never stuck, I do have a bit of experience with the Catholic Church. sarah.JPGWhen I was a little girl, I went to Sunday School for a few years, but, strangely, I never actually got baptized. Later on, when I was in middle school, I started going to mass with my grandma at Our Lady of the Assumption, but that didn't last too long for whatever reason. However, hearing a representative from the Catholic Church speak about euthanasia was definitely an experience I've never had before. It might not have changed my opinion on the issue, which I'm sure you'll read soon enough, but it really was fascinating, so thank you.

Like I said, I never have gotten the opportunity to hear someone from the Catholic Church talk about euthanasia before, but Mr. Geib has made sure to educate us well on the Catholic stance on euthanasia. As I have come to understand it, the Catholic Church stands for life and the prolongation of it with no exceptions. As the church officially sees it, "intentionally causing one's own death, or suicide, is therefore as equally as wrong as murder; such an action on the part of a person is to be considered a rejection of God's sovereignty and loving plan." So, nobody may ask for euthanasia, and no authority can actually permit or recommend it for a patient. Such an action is considered a "violation of the divine law" and if a patient is to ask for it, it is really "an anguished plea for love and help."

Many people I have come across, who do not exactly understand the Catholic point of view, think that we only suffer because God wants us to suffer. What we came to understand, however, was that in the [[#|eyes]] of the Catholic Church, suffering is an inevitable part of life, and death especially is surrounded by it. Suffering is a part of God's plan, though, and it serves to help people associate with Jesus Christ and his sacrifice made in God's name. However, we are not expected to suffer all the pain that may or may not be a part of our illness. Painkillers, therefore, will be allowed even though they can sometimes shorten a person's life. The Pope Pius XII says that painkillers are fine as long as they do "not prevent the carrying out of other religious and moral duties." Things get a little bit [[#|more]] complicated regarding painkillers that can cause unconsciousness. Only a serious reason allows for the use of such painkillers because then a person cannot fulfill their duties.

Of course, painkillers are not the only means of treating a disease or illness. There is ordinary care, which I have learned is basically care that is common and accessible depending on the area that someone lives in, though it can depend on other factors. Also, there is extraordinary care, which is not easy to get, so nobody is expected to get it, but they can choose to pursue it. However, a patient is expected to acquire ordinary care because a rejection of ordinary care is against the beliefs of the Catholic Church because it is obviously a rejection of life, which is a sin. Experimental methods are okay with the consent of the patient, and they are even considered to be a service to humanity. These means can by interrupted if the results aren't ideal or if a technique carries a risk or is burdensome. So, even if a patient has already chosen to try out these methods they are not expected to finish the treatment if it is no longer considered worth it. Another case in which such treatment can be stopped is "if inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used" and they "only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life." In conclusion, "life is a gift of God" and should not be rejected.

When Alison Davis, a woman born with myelomeningocele spina bifida, read a bill in England that would permit "doctors to withhold treatment from newborn handicapped babies," she wrote an indignant essay on the general public's view of handicapped people which in turn expressed her views on euthanasia for handicapped people. She is quite incensed that hospitals would be allowed to let babies born with a handicap die just because they will have "'no worthwhile quality of life.'" Though Ms. Alison Davis has suffered much from her disease and has gone through twenty surgeries so far, she has had much success in her life. She knows that she is living proof that a handicapped person can live a full life. However, the bill counters this belief with the idea that babies with congenital defects are, in fact, not considered people until they reach 28 days of life. Davis is angry that "this notion of 'non-personhood' denies the right of handicapped people to be recognized as equal human beings in a caring society." She feels that handicapped people should not be provided the right to euthanasia and progressively fewer rights in general because it cements the misconception that handicapped people are less than the average person.

Chris Hill, on the other hand, has a very different viewpoint from Alison Davis. Hill was a man who became unexpectedly disabled in a hang-gliding accident. He describes the accident as "ironic that something that I loved so much could destroy me so cruelly." Because of the accident, Hill became paralyzed from the chest down, saying he was "more than three-quarters dead." Hill was so unhappy with the hand he had been dealt, so that he decided death was better than life as a handicapped person. When giving reasons for his choice he said "every time I had to ask someone to do something for me, every time I was dragged up a damn step, was like thrusting a hot blade into the place where my pride used to be." He felt that when he lost his ability to move and take care of himself, he lost his dignity. Even though people tried to reassure him that he could still live a full and meaningful life, he knew that for him that would never be true. Hill was aware that in his time before the accident he had accomplished all that he wanted to, more than what most people will do in their lives, and, now, he could do no more.

Now the Netherlands is a whole different story from Alison Davis and the Catholic Church. In the Netherlands, active voluntary euthanasia is legal for doctors to perform. At a Dutch general hospital Reiner de Graaf Gasthius, a man named Pieter Admiral works as a member of the Terminal Care Team, which includes sometimes helping his patients die with dignity. His job is to take care of patients in the final stages of their lives, and, the way he sees it, performing euthanasia on a patient is just another part of that palliative care. Of course, the process of procuring euthanasia is not a simple ask and you shall receive sort of situation. To get euthanasia, the patient has to show a team that they truly want to and are ready to die. The team has "two doctors, a nurse, and one of the hospital's spiritual caregivers - the Roman Catholic chaplain, the Protestant chaplain, and the Humanist counselor." The hospital emphasizes the idea that they can not just take the patient's word that they would like to die as "a patient's request for euthanasia may, after all, be a cry for help - prompted perhaps by shortcomings in the delivery of palliative care." The team was put in place so they can ensure the patient is not looking for a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

One of Admiral's patients, when giving reasons for her readiness to die, said, "God could not have wanted this." When the doctor gave his reasons for actually performing euthanasia, which some people believe goes against the responsibilities of the doctor, he says "as doctors we have two primary duties: to ensure the well-being of our patients and to respect their autonomy." They basically want to help treat their patients as long as they can, and to try to respect their wishes, even if it involves something as controversial as euthanasia. They view active voluntary euthanasia as the "last dignified act of terminal care." However, though passive voluntary euthanasia does not involve the easy death that it implies, Admiral feels that there is no moral difference between the two forms of euthanasia.

Something ever more shocking about the Dutch and their liberal stance on euthanasia is that euthanasia is not reserved for only the terminally ill patients. Euthanasia can, also, be done on patients who "seeks release from a medical condition that imposes unrelievable and unbearable suffering." The tricky thing about this is what is the definition of unrelievable and unbearable suffering? Because doctors cannot tell how much a patient is suffering and what they feel is unbearable and unrelieveable, it is entirely up to the patient what this means. Though, the Dutch stance on euthanasia is unbelievable to some, it has served to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship because doctors can be trusted to help the patient do what they must in the end.

Now comes the time when I must tell you my opinion, Sister Mary Rose, but the truth is I have not fully formed my decision yet. There is one thing I am sure of, though. If someone is terminally ill and they want to die, they should be able to. If they want to die, they should be able to have the doctor actively perform euthanasia on them with no fear of legal action. If someone is so sick that their death is inevitable and they feel that they can not stand to keep living in their present condition, then why force them to live out the rest of their miserable lives. They could die with their loved ones at their bedside and a smile on their face. I think anyone should be afforded that opportunity when it comes to the end. With modern medicine nowadays, people are kept alive much longer than they would've been otherwise, and I think that has changed the circumstances a lot, even though the catholic church might feel otherwise.

Even though I am decided on that particular situation, I am still iffy on the idea of euthanasia for those who aren't terminally ill, but still suffering. I understand that they have a long term illness, one that they feel they can no longer live with. I just don't know if that merits the right to euthanasia. There's something so depressing about the idea of someone killing his or herself because they are essentially giving up. I understand that people like Chris Hill feel that they can no longer endure an existence in which they lose part or all of their ability to take care of themselves. I know that people like him would hate that there is a part of me saying "you didn't try hard enough" because I just don't know how much they tried. Well, I do know with Ramón Sanpedro, which was not at all, and I just can't agree with that. Sometimes you just have to deal with what the universe gave you. It just reminds me too much of the idea of giving chemically depressed people the right to euthanasia. They don't seem to be in their right state of mind, so how could they make life-ending decisions? I know that when we were watching Million Dollar Baby it was especially upsetting to me that the woman got her trainer to kill her. I understand that her life as it was after the accident seemed miserable, but something doesn't sit right with me after watching that. I feel that there must have been some good left in her life after the accident and the movie wasn't exactly sensitive to handicapped people by portraying the life of a handicapped person so negatively. I know that people with a handicap have the ability to live full and happy lives just like Alison Davis does.

In the end, though, who am I to say whether or not someone should die? It is ultimately their decision. Like the Dutch believe, who are we to say what constitutes unbearable suffering? I can safely say I have not experienced unbearable suffering in my life, and I can't safely say what will happen when I do because I believe that is inevitable, like the Catholic Church does. I'm just not sure whether or not I would want to endure it.

Anyways, thank you for taking so much time out of your schedule for us, Sister Mary Rose. It really was amazing to hear about the Catholic Church from a nun and I especially liked hearing your life story and about how strong your faith is. I hope you like hearing about what we think and what we learned about euthanasia.

Sincerely,
Sarah A.