Jesus christ in favor of euthanasia
RACHEL Emisoras Latinas continues its broadcasts from Jerusalem. Today is Easter Sunday, and Jesus Christ and I are seated on a street corner of a teeming Arab neighborhood. Is there anything that strikes you, Jesus? The noise, the people’s clothes, the buildings?
JESUS The old people.
RACHEL Why the old people?
JESUS I see a lot of elderly people, Rachel, Before it wasn’t like this. The people didn’t live such a long time. Death came earlier.
RACHEL Now it’s different. With so many medicines, anybody can live to be eighty.
JESUS Like Methuselah.
RACHEL And that raises a question if an older person is sick and beyond cure, when should he die?
JESUS I don’t understand you. He should die when his hour comes.
RACHEL But who decides that hour? Nowadays someone can be sick, but he doesn’t die, because they put him in a good hospital, they connect all kinds of machines to him, and … and he doesn’t die.
JESUS They don’t let him die?
RACHEL Well, that’s the issue. People say that God is the absolute master of life and that we cannot decide. … Wait, we have a call … Hello…. Yes? … Jesus, we have on the line a listener who wants to know your opinion about euthanasia.
JESUS What’s the meaning of that word, Rachel?
RACHEL Just what I was talking about having a dignified death, deciding one’s own death. Listen to this fellow.
YOUTH Jesus, my mother is very old and has a terminal illness. She suffers terrible pain, and the painkillers don’t help her any more. She no longer wants to live, and we don’t want to see her suffering this way …
YOUTH In the hospital they tell us that her heart is strong, that they’ll give her new medicines, which will allow her to live many months, maybe years, longer…
JESUS But what kind of life would that be, if the jug is already leaking at the spring, if the silver thread is already broken?
YOUTH She doesn’t want to be in the hospital. She wants to die at home.
JESUS So why don’t they do what she wants? Wise people know when to open the doors to death.
YOUTH So would it be all right for us to stop the medicines and … and speed up her …. her passing?
JESUS Speak with her. Be close to her. If she is in peace and ready for the journey, let her decide. Otherwise, then you, her children, those who truly love her, should make the decision.
RACHEL The call was cut off … The boy was crying …
JESUS He must be suffering a lot.
RACHEL The thing is, the laws prohibit euthanasia. Furthermore, there are some religious people who say that that woman should accept her pains and offer them up to you …
JESUS To me? Why to me?
RACHEL Because you suffered for her, and now it’s her turn to suffer for you.
JESUS What nonsense. I suffered because of the powerful men who ordered my death. And she’s suffering because she’s sick, Rachel.
RACHEL But don’t they say that suffering purifies, that it is pleasing to God?
JESUS What pleases God is life, life in its fullness. How can God want the suffering of his sons and daughters, especially when such pain can be avoided. Suffering is a good teacher, Rachel, but you don’t have to go out of your way to find it. It comes without our looking for it.
RACHEL And when no recovery is possible, when life is artificially prolonged and the suffering is useless?
JESUS Rachel, I said something to you a few days ago. God gives us two gifts life and liberty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.
RACHEL For today this has been Rachel Perez, trying to understand this man Jesus, and broadcasting for Emisoras Latinas from a corner of the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
A topic for our time
Jesus of Nazareth spoke about life much more than about death. He never spoke about euthanasia or anything similar because in his time people did not live very long and there were no scientific methods for extending the life span. Although euthanasia (“dying well”) is an ancient concept, the polemics about euthanasia is more urgent in our own day, since medicine has extended the human lifespan considerably in the last century: people now live many years longer.
Gary S. Becker, who won the Nobel prize for economics in 1992, claims that the greatest achievement of the 20th century is the increase in people’s life expectancy. As we were finishing the 20th century and entering into the 21st, he wrote the following: On New Year’s Eve I asked our guests to give their opinions about what had been the most important achievement of the 20th century. There were several suggestions: the growth of democracy, the invention of computers, … I told them what I thought: what most benefited ordinary people in the 20th century was the longer life expectancy. The improvements in health care from 1900 till the end of the century have been spectacular. In the western world, life expectancy increased from 45 years at the beginning of the century to more than 75 years on the eve of the 21st century.
A “beautiful death” is a crime
Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kung defines euthanasia as beautiful death, that is, good, quick, easy, without suffering.
Traditional Catholic theology, however, and the Vatican’s current official position condemn euthanasia and consider it a crime. They insist on the defense of life “from conception until its natural end.” Just as with contraceptives and abortion, the Catholic tradition is totally opposed to every “artificial” form of deciding about life.
As an example of the way this official position is expressed, we quote an excerpt from the Letter to Catholic Health Care Workers of the whole world, authored in 1995 by Carmelite Fr Boniface Honings, consultant for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Euthanasia disrupts the doctor-patient relationship. It does so from the patient’s side because he or she relates to the doctor as to the person who can procure death, and it does so from the doctor’s side because he or she is no longer the absolute guarantor of life, but is rather the one from whom the patient should fear death. The contact between doctor and patient is a relationship of confidence in life, and it should remain such.
Euthanasia is a crime in which health care workers, who always and only care for life, cannot in any way cooperate. The same holds true for abortion, even when it is a matter of the mother’s health, a serious fetal malformation, or a pregnancy that is caused by rape. Indeed, life is such a primordial and fundamental good that we can hardly compare it, in terms of equality or even less inferiority, with various hardships, even when these are quite serious. On this point the coincidence of Hippocratic ethics and Christian morality is undeniable: both Hippocratic ethics and Christian morality reject every form of direct abortion and direct euthanasia, whether active or passive, because no objective can legitimize an act that suppresses prenatal life or a homicidal act.
There have been so many advances in medical technology that a breach has been opened in the official Catholic opposition to euthanasia, one that allows what may be called passive euthanasia, aimed at alleviating pain when there is no cure possible or when the medical procedures are too costly or complex.
The above cited letter of Honings states: When the patient simply cannot be cured, the health care professional is always obliged to practice all proportionate care, but he or she may interrupt care that is disproportionate. Here the problem of humanizing pain by means of analgesics and anesthesia is very important. Although for Christians pain has an elevated penitential and salvific significance, Christian charity requires health care workers to relieve physical suffering.
The concept of “palliative care” to relieve pain arose in the 1960s. Cecily Saunders, a British nurse, was concerned about the suffering of hospital patients with terminal illnesses, so she revolutionized the treatment they were to be given: she proposed to care for them from an integral perspective, attending to their physical, psychic, social and spiritual needs.
Rights of the moribund
The philosophy of palliative care is reflected in the Declaration of the Rights of the Moribund:
+ Right to be treated as persons, as human beings until the end.
+ Right to preserve hope till the end, whatever the hope may be.
+ Right to be cared for by people who can inspire confidence in them.
+ Right to express, in their own way, their feelings and emotions in the face of the proximity
of their own death
+ Right to take part in the decisions that are taken about how they are to be cared for.
+ Right to receive medical attention even when there is no possibility of being cured.
+ Right to change medical methods in search of greater comfort.
+ Right not to die alone.
+ Right to have their pain alleviated.
+ Right to receive honest and sincere answers to any of their questions.
+ Right not to be deceived about their condition.
+ Right to receive help from their family and to have their family receive help in accepting
the death of a member.
+ Right to preserve their individuality and not be judged by their decisions, even when they
are contrary to other people’s beliefs.
+ Right to be cared for by sensitive, competent persons who understand their needs and are
capable of helping them to meet death.
+ Right to die in peace and with dignity.
+ Right to have their body respected after death.
To live is a right, but not a duty
Spanish journalist Pepe Rodríguez in his book Dying is Nothing offers the following reflection: It is obvious that life is a right, but it cannot and should never be considered a duty. Nobody can be obliged to live against his will, or to agonize or vegetate as the victim of a terminal illness, in violation of his conscience and his express desire not to continue living that way. … When the quality of life deteriorates to the point of taking away what we consider “our dignity”, consideration should automatically be given to a person’s right to decide to break with the obligation of continuing to live.
An impressive and unforgettable account of dignity in the face of a terminal illness and death appears in the movie “Witt”, directed by Mike Nichols (2001).
Each case is different
Concerning euthanasia it is impossible to offer general opinions in favor or against, much less to issue severe condemnations or judgments. It is essential to know and understand each case, to study all the circumstances that surround it, to be able to think and act with love and compassion. Certain emblematic cases have made it possible to understand better what is at issue when we speak of euthanasia. Among such cases are three outstanding ones that occurred at the beginning of the 21st century in Europe, where euthanasia is now an almost daily dilemma.
One case was that of Ramón Sampedro, a Spanish worker who was quadriplegic for 30 years after an accident; he asked to die since he could no longer bear the contradiction between the paralysis of his body and the lucidity of his mind. Finally in 1998 he managed to get a friend to help him to die. His case was brought to the screen by Alejandro Amenábar in the movie “Mar adentro”, which won an Oscar in February, 2005.
Another case was that of the young Frenchman, Vincent Humber, who became a quadriplegic at the age of 19 after an auto accident. After three years of lying prostrate in a bed, blind, mute, and without taste or smell, he asked the doctors of the hospital, using only the pressure of one of his fingers to communicate, to help him to die. Since they refused, his mother helped him and was subsequently arrested. In 2003 her case contributed to a debate in France in favor of a law that guarantees the right to die with dignity.
A third case was that of the Italian Piergiorgio Welby, 60 years of age and the victim of a progressive muscular dystrophy that had left him completely immobile, except for his eyes. Having been connected to a respirator for ten years, Welby asked the doctors to discontinue this treatment by which he was being kept alive and to sedate him so that he could die painlessly. A doctor in the hospital of Cremona, where he was a patient, gave him what he wanted, and Welby died on December 20th, 2006. The case aroused the Italian public, and a lively public and private debate about euthanasia was carried on. In announcing Welby’s departure from this world, the leader of the Radical Party, Marco Penella, said: His example will be a source of strength, love and hope for all men and women who love life, liberty and responsibility.
In the year 2007 only two countries of the European Union had legalized euthanasia for persons with incurable illnesses who desired it. The ethical and legal debate continues in other countries. In Latin America, Mexico has taken the lead in seeking to humanize dying. In December, 2007, approval was given in the Federal District of Mexico City to the so-called Law of Anticipated Will, which assists terminally ill patients who choose to have suspended the measures that prolong their lives. The new law distinguishes between “euthanasia” and “orthothanasia”; this latter concept means “correct death” and makes a distinction between “curing” and “caring”. When there is no possible cure, then there is no need to take action, if a sick person older than 16 years of age decides so by means of a document signed in the presence of a notary and two witnesses.
Euthanasia in other religions
In their book The Challenges of Bioethics, Marie-Gaëlle le Perff and Jean-Paul Guetny tell us:
All religions consider life sacred, and they express this principle in their rejection of euthanasia. In the face of death and physical decay, however, the different religions respond in a variety of ways. Even with the ever more frequently employed concept of “dying with dignity” and the growing number of gravely ill persons who demand, sometimes even in the courts, to put an end to their lives, religions are firm in their opposition both to euthanasia and to the “therapeutic cruelty” which, at great cost and with all types of medical equipment, seeks to keep terminally ill patients alive. All religions are agreed as regards the application of “palliative care” to prevent pain. The principle which gives rise to such care has always been rooted in religious traditions. So it is that in the Orthodox liturgy the faithful regularly in their prayers ask God for “a peaceful end of Christian life, without pain or humiliation.”
In all the sacred texts of Judaism, the principle of acting against pain is very present. It is a principle which the believer should balance against the commandment which says, “You shall not kill.” Catholicism is the religion which most rigorously rejects euthanasia, but that does not mean that it accepts any and every medical procedure to prolong life. It proposes that only reasonable treatment be used, that in which the benefits are greater than the hardships. Protestants and Buddhists are opposed to euthanasia, but they always leave a space, according to each individual case and situation. For Buddhists the main thing is compassion, which is a core value of their religion. If love is expressed in sharing in the happiness of the other, then compassion is expressed in the desire to see the other freed of suffering. Compassion is what will allow us to take into account the personal aspects of each situation and to find a solution that is suitable for each case.
The complete text appears in www.envio.org.ni
Ending life with a party
In his book Immediate God (Trotta, 1997), German theologian Eugen Drewermann makes the following reflection and offers a bold proposal:I believe that the more means that medicine finds to prolong life, the more it is obliged to find better means for putting an end to life. I’m convinced that soon we will achieve this and that medicine will know how to develop methods and discover drugs that can be administered without causing the least pain. In fact, why not try to find drugs that will produce a euphoric effect? It seems to me that ending life with a party, with a celebration, is something correct and beautiful, whereas a death that is undergone as a kind of fate imposed from outside, accompanied by endless pain and orchestrated by intensive medical meddling, is unworthy of human beings.