A week has passed since the Supreme Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision to strike down the laws prohibiting what is euphemistically called ‘physician assisted suicide’. In a nutshell, the Court has decided the current law prohibiting physicians to commit what really amounts to murder is ‘unconstitutional’. That is, the current proscriptive law violates the 1982 Charter’s rights to autonomy and freedom of conscience. At the order of the Court, Parliament now has one year to pass a law framing under what circumstances people may request help from a physician to commit suicide. So much for the Hippocratic Oath’s first premise: First, do no harm. But that Rubicon was passed nearly half a century ago, with Trudeau Sr.’s 1969 Omnibus Bill permitting abortions. Of course, there were numerous restrictions added to that original law, all of which are now dust in the wind, especially since the Court’s 1988 ruling to strike down the laws governing abortion in Canada. The judges back then expected Parliament to draft a new and ‘improved’ law on abortion, something the MP’s under Brian Mulroney never got around to, leaving Canada one of the few nations in the world with no laws governing abortion (except various medical provisos, like only physicians can perform them).
The same may well happen for so-called euthanasia. For the next year, at least, the Court has left the current law in place (since when did the Court become a legislative body?), and physicians will still be charged if they kill their patient. Thank God for small mercies. After that, who knows? Will there be a law, or will Parliament again not want to touch the issue, as it does want, even to this day, to touch the issue of abortion? Will physician-assisted suicide, like the killing of the unborn, be left ‘decriminalized’, a personal decision between a patient and his doctor?
Yet, as Father Raymond de Souza put it well in a recent column, it will be the weak, the deformed, the poor, those who cannot speak and have none to speak for them, who will suffer. Sure, in the short term, the rich and powerful will decide when and how to die. But what of those who cost the system so much to keep alive? Our health-care system (along with everything else in the province) is in a state of near-financial collapse, so the motive of money may do the talking or, more accurately, the killing.
We are a society in love with death, a paradoxical proposition for a society that claims to live to the full. But that is just the problem. When one is no longer able to live ‘to the full’, to gather the rosebuds and frolic in the sun, when old age, dementia and stiffness in the bones sets in, then what is there to life?
The crux here, really, is the question of suffering: Are we just animals, in whom suffering is basically pointless? Or is our suffering redemptive, worth something in the eyes of God and eternity? We have no moral problem (or should not have) euthanizing animals who are in great pain. Their suffering is limited to a bodily dimension; therefore, if we can end it, we should.
Not so human beings, however, who are made in image of God, and whose sufferings have a spiritual quality and worth, which can be, should be, offered up in union with the sufferings of Christ and His Mystical Body.
This, of course, will sound strange to an atheist or agnostic; indeed, many Christian and non-Christian religious communities have lost sight of the spiritual value of suffering. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that he was dismayed at how much suffering in hospitals went ‘unused’, since it was not voluntarily united with Christ’s.
Hence, the vast groundswell of support for euthanasia across our fair, now-nearly-pagan land. Some may hesitate to accept euthanasia based on the slippery-slope argument: Where do we draw the line on who lives and dies? Who decides? What constitutes ‘consent’ for suicide? One need only witness the current labyrinthine discussion attempting to figure out the basis of ‘consent’ for casual sex, to predict what will happen when we try to decide what constitutes consent for death.
These a posteriori arguments, convincing others from the evil effects of allowing euthanasia, are good, and should be used to full effect. However, they are not enough. One must accept, a priori, that human life is sacred and inviolable, because, as the Catechism reminds us, “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.” Therefore, as the paragraph continues “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; italics added)
Need we remind ourselves that the Nazi ‘final solution’ began with psychiatrists being given the right in law to kill off ‘mental defectives’ in 1930’s Germany? Have the Court justices never read history? Is there not one amongst them with the wisdom and foresight to see what they have begotten? It makes me despair even further of our educational institutions and our culture.
I recall years ago visiting what used to be called the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for the Incurables (its name has since changed in our politically-correct age). Therein, I saw patients in varied, but radically debilitating, stages of suffering. Malformed women, microcephalic, with little more than stumps for arms and legs, hooked up to tubes, and moaning all day; people in comas, with bedsores; brain-damaged people, with enough memory just to be aware of the neglect of their families. And so on. Each of them costs perhaps hundreds of dollars a day to ‘keep alive’, to nourish, bathe, medicate. Part of me thought, why?
Of course, we keep them alive because our culture just does not kill people. After all, we are a Christian nation…or were. Our Christianity has now dwindled to minority-status, and with its decline, the moral foundations it offered have also attenuated. Can we now articulate why we keep all those ‘incurable’ patients alive? Is there in fact such a thing as a life not worth living?
Our Supreme Court has answered that question with a resounding and unanimous, yes, and it is up to you, at least for now, whether your own life is ‘worth living’. Soon, likely enough, others will decide for you, especially if you are weak and vulnerable.
There was a 1967 novel called Logan’s Run, (turned into a cheesy 1976 movie with Michael York which has, apparently, a number of shots of gratuitous nudity; I am so glad the 70’s are over, but their effects remain; read the book: as per usual, it is better). Anyway, the novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic underground society where, to control the population, everyone is voluntarily ‘euthanized’ at age 21. An embedded crystal in your hand tells you when your time is nearly up, by turning red. Of course, there are those who don’t want to die, and who try to run. They are invariably captured by a police force termed ‘Sandmen’, who track them down and euthanize them, often by more violent means. Logan is one such Sandman; but when his time comes, and his own crystal glows ruby-red, well, guess what, he too realizes that life is worth living, and tries to run…
I, for one, have no plans to go peacefully into that great goodnight at the hands of our medical profession. You may see me running one day. I am a few years past the tender age of 21, but could still, I hope, outrun most of the doctors. Perhaps, however, it won’t be physicians chasing us, and our benign State will have their own Sandmen in the near future. After all, once some deaths are seen as a ‘good thing’, it won’t be long before avoiding some deaths will be seen as a ‘bad thing’…
Bishop Sheen’s popular 1950’s television show (at the time, it drew in 10 million viewers a week, an unbelievable number, competing with the king of television, Milton Berle) was in fact called ‘Life is Worth Living’. Even if we do not always experience the fullness of that ‘worth’ in our own, or others’, lives, we are bound by the command of God, to whose authority alone it belongs to give life, or take life. For we all return to Him in the end, but at the time of His own choosing.
February 13th, 2015