Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Euthanasia: A False Mercy

Saint Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of The Catholic Church 2277 - Euthanasia

In case you missed it, one of the most important Canadian news headlines of this year came on February 6, with the Carter v. Canada euthanasia ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada. It was a very disturbing ruling that should concern conscientious Catholics, Christians alike and all people of good will. In essence, what has resulted is the removal of a portion of the Criminal Code, clearing the way for physicians to legally end the life of a human being based on certain criteria. This ruling reversed the previous 1993 Rodriguez decision in which it was determined that the state’s obligation to “protect the vulnerable” outweighed the rights of the individual to self-determination.

The Supreme Court of Canada has suspended their ruling for twelve months, in an effort to afford the federal government an opportunity to create a new law based on the ruling. 
If unopposed by the federal government, the ruling would come into effect and permit euthanasia in Canada. Parliament could oppose this ruling by invoking the Notwithstanding Clause of The Charter, in effect suspending the supreme court decision for a maximum period of five years, permitted with each invocation. The immediate result would maintain the 1993 Rodriguez decision banning euthanasia in Canada.

In an effort to further understand the euthanasia issue, I have done what I typically do with any controversy or issue, that is, I asked "what does the Catholic faith say about this?" This has always been a proper starting point, providing me with a moral compass to navigate the secular Canadian landscape and the increasing moral disorder brought about by elements of the "culture of death," such as abortion, contraception and euthanasia. For today's post, I have accessed two key sources of information from the Catholic faith: the Catechism of The Catholic Church and Saint John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). In addition, I also accessed the actual Supreme Court Carter vs. Canada ruling and provided a brief summary including some pertinent information to consider.

Catechism of The Catholic Church

So, what exactly is the truth about euthanasia? The Catechism of The Catholic Church's Article 5 The Fifth Commandment, "You Shall Not Kill," details the teachings of the Church with respect to human life. It categorizes the various offences to it, euthanasia being one of them. The catechism first begins by explaining the most fundamental aspect of human life, that is, that human life is sacred:
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being. (2258)
Specific to euthanasia, the catechism states the following, "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable." (2277) Some have referred to euthanasia in euphemistic terms, such as "physician assisted suicide," in what can only be considered to be an attempt to discard the truth about the killing of a human being before natural death. This has been further encouraged by the recent supreme court's unanimous 9-0 ruling; a clear indication that many at Canada's top judiciary level do not recognize, accept and understand the sacredness of human life.

Carter v. Canada

This case began with Gloria Taylor who in 2009 was diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, which causes progressive muscle weakness. Her desire to be relieved from the degenerative stages of suffering prompted her to challenge the constitutionality of the Criminal Code. Joining her in this challenge were three individuals and one organization: Hollis Johnson; Lee Carter who took her own mother to Switzerland, where she was killed by lethal injection; a British Columbia physician Dr. William Shoichet who would willingly perform euthanasia; and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which has advocated for "end of life choices" including euthanasia.

The Criminal Code, Part VIII Offences Against The Person And Reputation, under the heading of Suicide - 241. Counselling or aiding suicide states the following, "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." In addition the Criminal Code, Part I, General - 14. Consent to death, states the following, "No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him." Together these two provisions do not permit for euthanasia.

It was determined that the Carter challenge could proceed based on the interpretation that the aforementioned Criminal Code provisions "unjustifiably infringe" upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under Legal Rights, 7. Life, Liberty and security of person, which states, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Here is what the ruling stated:
The appeal should be allowed. Section 241 (b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringe s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician‑assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition. The declaration of invalidity is suspended for 12 months.
What this ruling illustrates is the audacious attempt the Supreme Court of Canada to change Canadian law, which is reserved for parliament and not within the realm of the courts; it spotlights what this ruling truly is, an exercise in judicial activism. 

I share the concerns of former member of parliament and Reform Party leader, Stockwell Day, who is quoted on a LifeSiteNews article, Canadian MPs slam ‘activist’ Supreme Court for forcing assisted suicide on the nation as saying, "I think that if you want to write laws you should run for office. If you want to rule on existing laws, aspire to the bench,” said Day, adding that court’s current membership had already made clear their intention of judicial activism; that is, to make new law by interpreting the existing law as they saw fit.

In addition, I agree with pro-life Conservative MP, Mark Warawa who voiced his concerns regarding this ruling. Here is what he had to say as reported from the above noted LifeSiteNews article:
One of the staunchest pro-life MPs, Conservative Mark Warawa, said he was “deeply concerned” about the decision, also noting that it contradicted the will of Parliament, which “has been dealing with the issue of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide for years. Parliament decided to uphold the ban on doctor-assisted suicide, and on May 28, 2014 overwhelmingly supported Motion M-456 to create a national strategy on Palliative and End of Life care.” Warawa, the member for Langley, B.C., also said that a year would not be enough time and hoped the Supreme Court would extend its deadline to two years.
The fact that the supreme court has ruled in favour of the killing of human beings is a telling sign of a deep moral crisis in Canada. The danger of such a ruling ever becoming law in Canada is the false perception that younger and future generations will have of euthanasia; that is, due to its legality and availability it must be morally licit to consider and accept.

Saint John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae

For those of you who may not be familiar with Evangelium Vitae, it is of one Saint John Paul II's most referred to document by those defending and protecting human life. Issued on March 25, 1995 on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, it was written to the bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious lay faithful and to all people of good will, on the value and inviolability of human life. So significant is this document, that on March 24, a vigil was held to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Evangelium Vitae at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Included in this document are detailed sections on the threats to life including: abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and human embryo research. It was a thoroughly written document that continues to remain relevant and pertinent for today's Catholic who seeks to understand with absolute clarity what the Catholic faith says about so many of the human life issues in today's society.

In light of the recent supreme court ruling, Chapter III's - You Shall Not Kill, God's Holy Law is of particular relevance because it is in this chapter that Saint John Paul II explained the role of civil law and its necessary conformity with the moral law. The title of this chapter alone identifies what should be first and foremost understood about the killing of another human being, that is, it is contrary to God's commandment of "You shall not kill." Life is a gift, one given to us not only through God's creative power, but also through his love. In giving life to man, Saint John Paul II noted, "...God demands that he love, respect and promote life." (52) Specific to the threats against life and how they contradict God's holy law he wrote:
The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action" (57)
Much further into the document Saint John Paul II identified the need to discover the basic elements of the relationship between civil and moral law. Civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. For example, he noted that, "...[I]n no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence." (71) He went on to state that the real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in a just society that allows for all to lead peaceful, Godly and respectful lives. In order for this to exist, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights for everyone; this must be recognized at law. First and fundamental among these rights is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. 

Part of the clarity and understanding provided in Evangelium Vitae, is also a reflection of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II, that is, the continuity with Church teaching in which he has made numerous references to many of his predecessors, Doctors of the Church, saints and other figures in the history of the Catholic Church. In this chapter, he cited references to Saint Pope John XXIII's encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) which stated in the introduction, how peace on earth "...[W]hich man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after, can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order." (1) Spotlighting further how important it is for civil law to guarantee and safeguard personal human rights, Saint John Paul II included the following from Pacem in Terris:
It is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promote, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority. Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force. (71)
The importance for civil law to conform with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. Saint John Paul II quoted Saint Pope John XXIII further, "Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience..." (72)

One of the great doctors of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, is cited from his work, Summa Theologicain support of identifying the role of civil law, "...[H]uman law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence" (72)

Applying the teachings from the Church, Saint John Paul II noted that when human law discards the fundamental right to life and legitimizes the killing of a human being, be it by abortion or euthanasia, then such laws are in opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; thus denying the equality of everyone before the law. Specific to euthanasia, he stated that regardless if euthanasia is requested with full awareness by the person involved, any state that legitimizes and authorizes it to be carried out would in effect be legalizing a case of "suicide-murder." This being in total contradiction to the fundamental principle of respect for and protection of every innocent life.

Adding to the Church's teaching Saint John Paul II stated that anti-life laws, ones that authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are radically opposed to the good of the individual and the general common good of society; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Anti-life laws conflict with the possibility of achieving the common good and as such, cease to be moral binding. He goes on to state that there is no obligation in conscience to obey anti-life laws, but rather, a "...[G]rave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection." (72) Citing scripture, Saint John Paul II makes the point crystal clear from Acts 5:29, "...[W]e must obey God rather than men." (72)

Elaborating on how unjust laws negatively impact conscience rights, Saint John Paul II did not deny that sometimes there are professional circumstances that involve difficult choices; the sacrifice of a prestigious position or relinquishing of reasonable hopes for career advancement, all of which are done in an effort to not take part in immoral or evil actions. 

To encourage those in such positions, Saint John Paul II dedicated an entire section to strengthening the resolve of those that are faced with such difficult scenarios. He stated, "Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices, even if permitted by civil legislation, that are contrary to God's law." (74) Such conscientious objections result in the refusal to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation and execution of anti-life practices. In addition, he added that such individuals must be protected on the professional level from all negative financial, disciplinary and legal ramifications.

He further noted that not taking part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty, but also a basic human right. If anyone had any doubts as to their responsibility no matter what the circumstances, he stated that every individual has a moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one is exempted and on this basis, all will be judged accordingly by God. 

"It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39) - The Tragedy of Euthanasia

At section sixty four of Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II dedicated many paragraphs addressing the specific threats to life from euthanasia. He began spotlighting how the advances in medicine within the cultural context of the time, which was so frequently closed to the transcendent, brought about new features to the experience of dying. The prevailing tendency then, and even more so today, has been to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well being. He noted how suffering is considered to be a "setback," something that we must be freed from at all costs; that the consideration of death became a "rightful liberation" once life was no longer held to be meaningful because it is filled with pain and doomed to even greater suffering.

Another negative cultural aspect that Saint John Paul II identified, that sadly has increased in today's society, is the neglect by humanity in its fundamental relationship with God. Man has usurped God's authority and demanded upon society guarantees as to when to end individual life. This is especially the case he noted in developed countries, where people are encouraged by progress in medicine and advanced techniques. He spotlighted that such advances are able to not only attend to cases formerly considered untreatable and to reduce and eliminate pain, but also to sustain and prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty.

It is in the same cultural context that Saint John Paul II referred to the growing temptation and recourse to euthanasia to the point that decisions are made to control death before its time, be it one's life or that of someone else's life. Here is what he stated regarding the deplorable aspects of euthanasia:
In reality, what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the "culture of death", which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value. (64)
Saint John Paul II has helped the Church to make a correct moral judgement on euthanasia by providing a definition of euthanasia, "Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. 'Euthanasia's terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used' " (65) He goes on further to distinguish this from any decision to forego aggressive medical treatment:
Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called "aggressive medical treatment", in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience "refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted". Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death. (65)
Modern medicine and its use in palliative care is also addressed in this encyclical. Questions that arose regarding the licitness of certain various types of painkillers and sedatives for relieving the patient's pain when this involves the risk of shortening life. Saint John Paul II noted that some patients may take an approach in which they accept pain and suffering, enduring it without medication, but such heroic decisions can not be considered the duty of everyone. Citing Pope Pius XII's Address to an International Group of Physicians, from the Congregation For The Doctrine of The Faith's, Declaration On Euthanasia, Chapter III - The Meaning of Suffering For Christians and The Use of Painkillers, Saint John Paul II referred to the Church's teaching on the licit use of painkillers even when their use results is decreased consciousness and a shortening of life, with Pope Pius XII's affirmation that, "if no other means exist, and if, in the given circumstances, this does no prevent the carrying out of other religious or moral duties." 

Saint John Paul II elaborated further on this by stating that, such a scenario should be understood that death is not willed or sought, even though for reasonable motives one runs the risk of it, but rather a desire to ease pain effectively with the use of analgesics which medicine provides. Adding to this, he quoted Pope Pius XII further when he noted that at the same time "...[I]t is not right to deprive the dying person of consciousness without a serious reason: as they approach death people ought to be able to satisfy their moral and family duties, and above all they ought to be able to prepare in a fully conscious way for their definitive meeting with God." (65)

Euthanasia in essence is committing suicide with the help of someone else, which is always morally objectionable as murder. Saint John Paul II made it very clear, that to concur with another person's intention to commit suicide and actually assist in the process is an injustice that can never be excused, even if it is requested. Citing the writings of St. Augustine, he included the following relevant quote, "it is never licit to kill another: even if he should wish it, indeed if he request it because, hanging between life and death, he begs for help in freeing the soul struggling against the bonds of the body and longing to be released; nor is it licit even when a sick person is no longer able to live." (66) Saint John Paul II added that euthanasia must be called what it is, a false mercy and a disturbing perversion of mercy. He further stated that, "...[T]rue compassion leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear." (66)

Of particular note is the paragraph in which Saint John Paul II refers to euthanasia's availability and permissiveness by those in society who are entrusted to build for the common good, yet arbitrarily enact laws and develop policies that promote and encourage the opposite. The Carter vs. Canada case is a prime example as is the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy. Such realities are referred to in the analogy to the temptation in the Garden of Eden; that is, to become like God. Only God has the power over life and death, "It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39) Saint John Paul II emphasized that only God exercises his power in accordance with a plan of wisdom and love.

Saint John Paul II stated conclusively that, in harmony with the Magisterium of his Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, "I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person." (65)

If prior to reading today's post, you in fact did not know of the recent supreme court ruling or have not kept up to date on the euthanasia issue, I would like to recommend that in addition to the resources provided in this post, you bookmark Euthanasia Prevention Coalition's web site and consider adding their blog to your reading list. 

There will never be peace in Canada until all threats to the value and inviolability of life are eradicated from the land. If I may suggest, pray and fast for the end to, what Saint John Paul II has aptly referred to as, the "culture of death" and that Canada be restored to a "culture of life."

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

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