“In modern society, in which even the fundamental values of human life are often called into question, cultural change exercises an influence upon the way of looking at suffering and death; moreover, medicine has increased its capacity to cure and to prolong life in particular circumstances, which sometimes give rise to moral problems. Thus people living in this situation experience no little anxiety about the meaning of advanced old age and death. They also begin to wonder whether they have the right to obtain for themselves or their fellowmen an ‘easy death,’ which would shorten suffering and which seems to them more in harmony with human dignity.” - Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, Vatican, May 5, 1980
And so erodes further our western culture’s respect for life. Euthanasia is a topic of great complexity, as it is indeed nearly unbearably difficult to watch someone that you love suffer in pain or to be subjected to the ravages of a terminal illness. Indeed I have gone back and forth on the subject over the years myself. After much reflection and study though, I am now convinced that while God does not want us to suffer, nor does He wish for us to extinguish the divinely-bestowed spark of our own life or that of a loved one.
Regardless, it would seem that society today is slouching ever more towards supporting euthanasia or “mercy killing” as it is sometimes euphemistically called. Indeed, my own home state of Oregon has even gone so far as to codify into law and thus “legalizing” euthanasia when it passed its “Death with Dignity Act” in October of 1997. I was still a resident at the time and voted against this initiative, but evidently a majority of my fellow Oregonians did not share my views on the matter. This law “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.”
The arguments at the time of the debate against this legislation were that it would create that slippery slope where eventually those folks that were in chronic pain and not terminally ill would also be allowed to have a doctor kill them too, or perhaps come the time when someone that was in a “vegetative state” that was a burden on their family or resources could be euthanized. While these things have not come to fruition yet, with the changing attitudes of our society towards death, one has to wonder how long it will be before Oregon or other states have amended laws that also allow such a person who is in chronic pain but not terminal to also take part of this “death with dignity act”. After all, many would argue, that this would indeed be the compassionate thing to do, right?
And with the recent passage of Obamacare this year, and the inarguable rationing of services that will eventually occur under the plan, if it is not repealed, at what point do those “death panels” actually become reality? When a chronically ill elderly patient is a burden on the health care system with its then limited resources, why wouldn’t the health care system cease expending most resources in helping that patient when they could be used to treat someone younger that might be more productive towards society if healed? This is the slippery slope that our nonchalant attitude towards life is creating in our society.
Further, in the case of a hypothetical Oregon doctor who is responsible for writing the prescription for that lethal dose of medication for a patient to kill himself, is the doctor not violating his Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm”? Indeed, does this not go completely against the moral code of the healing arts? Unfortunately not in today’s society, it would seem.
I have actually had the great sorrow of having lived through the prolonged and painful death of a loved one. My father was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was a boy. He was not given long to live by the doctors, and yet managed to continue living for years past their projected date of the end of his life. I watched with my brother and mother as my father slowly died. Towards the end of his life, in the final weeks, he was at home with us and seldom lucid. But it was in the moments where he was that I was able to spend some of those last days talking with him and letting him know how much he was loved and he let me know how much he loved us. I was twelve when he passed away nearly 32 years ago this month.
While I never would wish for my father to have suffered as he did, those last weeks and indeed years were invaluably precious to me, and I suspect also to him. Had that “Death with Dignity Act” already have been established law in the 1970’s and my father had chosen to end his life when the doctors gave him six months to live (such is the requirement for physicians to write a lethal prescription under that law) then all of the other time we shared together in celebration of LIFE would not have been possible.
As for Dad, he never spoke of being sorry for himself or wishing to end his life to me or anyone else of which I am aware. That was not his way. He showed us how to live with dignity; not die with it.