The Dignity of Life Part III: Suicide, Euthanasia, and Dying with Dignity.

I think the fear of death is largely derived out of the unknown. How will I die?  When will it happen? Will it hurt?  It’s natural to fear death — or at the very least feel apprehensive about it. However, as Catholics, we believe that our final days can be a time of great glory and spiritual revelation. Therefore, it is important that we handle our death with grace, submission, and dignity.

For many, dying with dignity translates to having control over when and how they’ll die. This couldn’t be more the opposite of Catholic belief. Think for a moment about our pro-life mantra: From conception to natural death.  No doubt, the conception part gets a lot more focus in our society today, but those last two words, natural death, are just as important.

As it does with abortion, the Church takes an unwavering stance on issues of direct or assisted suicide and euthanasia. Luckily, assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia do not enjoy a widespread legal status (the use of physician-assisted suicide is legal in only two states here in the U.S), but the debate exists, and unlike war or the death penalty, there is no gray area. These things are mortal sins. They are never to be permitted.

Of course, it begs the question, “If a person is suffering, or is in incredible pain, should they not have the choice to end it?”

In order to answer that question, I think it’s important to first stress the central point of being a Christian, which is, giving your entire self to God, releasing all control into his hands, and recognizing and accepting his plan in our lives.

Suffering is a natural part of life. Without God, it can seem like a hopeless venture. Yet, when God is present amidst our weakest and most painful moments we can grow closer to Him. Our suffering is a reminder of our humanity.  It is a reminder of how much we truly need God.

This is especially true at the end of our lives, and why shouldn’t it be? We’re talking about the moments leading up to a literal encounter with our creator. This is the time we should seek God the most, and as Catholics we are particularly blessed, because we have the Sacraments and Last Rites to aid us in doing so.

As with everything else, The Catechism puts it best: We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. By taking matters into our own hands, we are simultaneously taking God out of the equation.

Now, on the subjects of suicide and euthanasia, there are some muddled areas that I feel need clarification. First, there is a huge distinction between extraordinary care and ordinary care. The former includes things like chemotherapy, resuscitation equipment, life support, dialysis, and ventilators. Halting the use of things like this does not fall under euthanasia or assisted suicide. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s the acceptance of our inability to defeat death. It allows death to come naturally.

The latter — ordinary care — includes the basic needs of survival like food and water.  If we withheld food and water from anyone, that person would die.  Therefore denying ourselves food or water, whether in a state of good health or in poor health, is suicide.  A person who cannot feed themselves are nourished through a feeding tube.  Removal of that tube is tantamount to suicide or euthanasia.

God has a plan, and try as we might no amount of scholarship or progress will ever allow us imperfect, finite humans to grasp the gravity of such a plan. We may not ever be able to understand why we are suffering, but rather than seek to end our pain by taking death into our own hands, we should seek God, and in those final moments we can follow the example of Christ and give our spirits up to him.

I want to end with a short story. Earlier this year, my wife and I attended the funeral of a friend who died tragically young. As the funeral Mass began, Father said something that struck me right in the heart: “Because of the resurrection, death does not have the final say.”

When I think of that, I have to ask myself, “What is there to fear, truly?” Death is just an step on the path to glory.

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever 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.—The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 2258.

Hello, New Readers!

I just want to send a huge thanks to Mark Shea for plugging me in his blog this morning and helping Mackerel Snapper reach a wider audience! Great to see new readers. I invite you to bookmark this site and come back to visit again, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on all things Catholic!

God bless!

–Matthew

Like Mackerel Snapper on Facebook here! You can also follow me on Twitter: @MackSnapMatt

 

The Dignity of Life, Part II: Just War

Over the years, I’ve become an outspoken opponent of war in virtually every situation. Much like my stance on the death penalty, my beliefs about war were cemented upon discovering the truth of Catholicism.

War is a horrible and evil entity—albeit an unfortunate reality in our world. When it comes to such a thing, there are many philosophical, ethical, and theological questions that arise, and just like every other aspect of life that brings us to a moral impasse, the Catholic Church has an answer.

We call it the Just War Theory.

At a glance, those words seem like a contradiction. Is there truly such a thing as a “just war?” Maybe not, but regardless, the Church has set forth a set of standards that exist to determine the necessity of armed conflict, and regulate how a people should act during and after said conflict.  There are exceptionally strict conditions for going to war, and they require a significant amount of contemplation beforehand.

First and foremost, war, in every case, should be an absolute desperate and last resort. Not the first, or the second, or the third, or fourth, but dead last. 

We should only go to war to counter an unjust aggressor, and for no other reason other than it is the only option left to safe guard peace and innocent life. 

We must know, without doubt, that the damage inflicted by the aggressor will be lasting, grave, and certain. There must also be a serious prospect of success, and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Should all the requirements be met, and a nation enters into war, it is still necessary that those involved hold onto a moral integrity. War is not a free pass for destruction. Indiscriminate killing is not permissible simply because one is in a state of war. This would be entirely contrary to the purpose of war to begin with.

Civilians, wounded soldiers, and even prisoners of war should still be respected and treated humanely—not tortured. This means that even blind obedience is not an excuse for excessive, violent behavior towards others.

Even after the conflict is over, and the aggressor is rendered incapable of any more harm, the victor has a moral obligation to help rebuild the occupied society and to give aid to the lives that were affected. 

There are — for the most part — the main points.  The theory itself is fairly expansive, and I’ll provide some links at the end for anyone who wishes to read further into it.

As I stated earlier, my feelings towards war were confirmed after I became Catholic. Even though I tend to lean on the side of a pacificism, I can see a situation where defense becomes necessary.  

Rules of conflict aside, the Church is the reason why I’ve become such a passionate opponent of armed conflict, and it is all part of my commitment to being pro-life.  Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” — it’s high time I took that to heart.

I don’t want to see people suffer.  As I stated in my last blog about the death penalty, I whole-heartedly believe in the dignity and sanctity of ALL human beings. As followers of Christ, it should be a part of our spiritual journey to make a world where war doesn’t have to be necessary.

Reading through the Catechism, you can feel the reluctant nature of legitimate defense. Yet, I worry that not enough people feel that way about war—reluctant—because that’s how we should feel. I fear that ideology combined with our own fickle humanity can cloud our moral judgment and lead us to justify wholly immoral actions.

I do not believe that God wishes any of us to experience the horrors of war, and I think he has tasked us with avoiding that violence at all costs.  As it says in the Catechism, we must turn to God and pray—not just for an end to war, but to seek out what role we can play in bringing God’s peace to Earth. 

 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.—The Catechism of the Catholic Church

If you want to read more about the Just War Theory and Legitimate Defense from the stance of the Catholic Church, you can just click on the following links.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

http://www.catholic.com/documents/just-war-doctrine

http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/just_war.htm