Choice for life
Bishop in Rome
Choice for life
We have had a feast of activities to keep us occupied over the last month. Te Maeva Nui, Constitution Day, Olympics and more recently the Pacific Forum meeting. Fathers’ Day came right at the end.
Each of these life filled events attempts to bring out the best of some aspect of humanity and gives us pride in various fields such as culture, local language, sport, political life, nation building, family etc. Personally, I have enjoyed, either being part of or viewing the above events.
At the same time as all this emphasis on life there has been too a certain amount appearing in the news about death, in particular how we might die. What has caught my attention as a churchman is that the euthanasia issue which has been given some exposure on television’s news recently with the death of the euthanasia campaigner in Great Britain, Mr Tony Nicklinson who was a “locked-in” syndrome sufferer. Mr Nicklinson died a natural death a week after losing a legal challenge for the right to end his life.
This was reported in the Independent Newspaper on August 22 and made it onto TV One news shown here in the Cook Islands. This is not surprising to be of interest in New Zealand as a private members bill is being prepared to go before parliament.
Then on ABC Radio Australia on August 27 this station carried the news that the Fiji’s Methodist Church has welcomed the news of the rejection of an euthanasia clinic to be set up in Fiji. The Reverend Tevita Banivanua, deputy general secretary of the Fiji Methodist Church, was quoted as saying that Fijian Christians would never have supported the idea of helping terminally ill people to die, as that is something only God can decide.
These two incidences prompt me to explore the topic, granted from a Catholic church point of view.
DEFINITION OF EUTHANASIA
Before I proceed I give a clear 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 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 disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his/her family.
In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience refuse forms of treatment that would only secure precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted.
Today as a result of advances in medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed to God, the experience of dying is marked by new features.
When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered “senseless” if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a “rightful liberation” once life is held to be no longer meaningful; because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering.
REMOVING GOD FROM THE EQUATION
Furthermore, when one denies or neglects the fundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with his life in full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in developed countries who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress of medicine and its ever more advanced techniques.
In this context the temptation grows to have recourse to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time, “gently” ending one’s own life or the life of others.
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 organised almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value.
For millennia the physician has been charged with being an advocate for the patient. Our doctors want to, according to their ability and judgment keep them from harm and injustice. Part of the impetus for the original Hippocratic oath was to ensure that doctors would not be paid by an enemy to give poison instead of medicine. Patients should be able to come to their doctor when they are sick and weakened, and have no fear that their vulnerability will be exploited.
Euthanasia from the point of view of Christian teaching contravenes the fifth commandment of God, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Christians have been at the forefront of caring for the sick and dying for centuries. Inspiring that service has been a reverence for human life and a love for the God who has created that life and who has sovereignty over it.
And the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry of healing leave us in no doubt of how he respected human life when many of his generation did not. One only needs to recall his healing of the ten lepers and of the blind man by the Pool of Siloam, whom others had bypassed for many years.
Bishop Paul Donoghue
For the Catholic Church
Bishop in Rome
Bishop Paul Donoghue.
Cook Islands Catholic Bishop Paul Donoghue is currently in Rome taking part in a renewal course for Catholic Bishops.
The course is for bishops ordained in the last two years and 90 new bishops are in Rome for the course.
Sixty-five of the new bishops are from Africa, 20 from Asia, three from Papua New Guinea and Bishop Paschal Chang-Soi from Taiohae (Marquesas) is the other South Pacific representative.
Bishop Donoghue reports that the aim of the course is to provide newly consecrated bishops in mission territories of the Catholic Church with an opportunity to update themselves regarding theological and pastoral issues.
“It is also meant to be a time of reflection, in an atmosphere of fraternity and exchange, with other bishops from other continents,” says Donoghue.
The highlight will be today when the group will have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Godolfo.
On Sunday the group will go on pilgrimage from Rome to Assisi, the birth place and place of work of St Francis of Assisi.