A MEMBER OF MY FAMILY lived to be 104 years of age and right up to the last few days before her 104 birthday she was living at her home with some assistance. When her health dramatically declined she was moved to a nursing home. There she was bedridden and most times was unable to respond or communicate with anyone. Her family visited her daily. After several months she died a peaceful and natural death.
Why must we kill in order to heal? Are we benefiting the patient by legalizing medical killing or euthanasia, or are we just finding a cheap easy way to end the life of a terminally ill patient? Presently we have the threat of euthanasia being administered to the sick and dying members of our society as a way of controlling suffering.
Should one who is no longer a so-called "productive member of society" be euthanized? Should a person who is suffering be "medically terminated"? My family didn't think so. We were fortunate that this person was able to be with us as long as she was and that she died naturally according to God's time and choice.
Presently society is starting to have a different viewpoint towards death and suffering by finding quicker means to better manage it. The Netherlands in recent years has allowed involuntary euthanasia to take place. This has become a major concern. Half the doctors there have killed conscious patients without their consent. The Remmelink Report on euthanasia in Holland claimed that between the years 1990 and 1995 there were 8100 cases of reported euthanasia. In 5000 of these, in which doctors intended to kill their patients, the patients had not requested the hastening of death.
On the other hand, the Washington State Medical Association House of Delegates in 1996 voted 98-2 to oppose Initiative 119, which allows for euthanasia to take place. Their first claim for opposition against euthanasia was that we don't need to kill to compassionately manage or treat pain or suffering. Dr. Cecilia Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, insists that 97% of cancer patients can get virtually total control of their pain through administered morphine and other analgesics. Secondly, the Washington delegates insist that we don't need to kill in order to control high costs.
Everyone has the right to refuse all sorts of unwanted treatment, such as ventilators, CPR, ICU care and other forms of extraordinary medical or technical intervention. It's already illegal to prolong the act of dying against the patient's will. We don't need Initiative 119 or similar statutes that give us rights we already have. Also, the patient is not morally obliged to use extraordinary medical treatment -- treatments or technical interventions which the patient judges either futile or excessively burdensome. The patient has a right to die his or her own death -- an natural death -- without the undue imposition of medical technology.
Dying patients may not generally refuse ordinary care. But we cannot simply abandon a dying person. According to Fr. Ed Krause, Professor of Ethics at Gannon University, "We are not obliged to impose a technical intervention, which in the estimation of the patient is virtually futile, i.e., it can neither cure nor effectively circumvent a lethal pathology. [In these kinds of cases, the actual] Death is caused by a lethal pathology, when it is no longer necessary or merciful to resist." A good and peaceful death must be more than cheap, quick, and painless. Doctors also state that no human being should be given the burden of having to kill other human beings. It is too much to ask of anyone. It is also particularly ironic that the same society which distrusts doctors in their exercise of their existing powers in daily practice considers them the ultimate power over life and death. The basic moral principles on the ethics of dying have been around for centuries, in the Ten Commandments as well as the Hippocratic oath, which doctors have adhered to for millennia.
In the Vatican's declaration on euthanasia, it affirms that life is uniquely sacred. The right to life and corresponding duties to respect life, are basic, inalienable, and the condition for affirming all other rights. A dying patient, like everyone else, has a right to privacy and integrity. In two states, Washington and California, attempts to legalize physician assisted suicide were brought before the voters in 1991 and 1992. Both were defeated. Neither bill mandated safeguards.
On the other hand, virtually every state in the union has some sort of law which makes assisted suicide a crime. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Criminal Code, Section 1505, reads, "A person who intentionally aids in or solicits another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony of the second degree." The state has a valid interest in respect for the sacredness of human life, and in the moral integrity of the medical profession. Decriminalizing euthanasia would predictably produce more harm and confusion than good. The unique spiritual tasks and opportunities that commonly surface in the last stages of life would be ignored or short-circuited. We are duty bound to die in ways that promote and sustain faith in those moral standards that make humane communion possible.
Today the unique sacredness of human life is ignored and overlooked. The healthy, strong, and well off dominate and abuse the weak, vulnerable, and defenseless. Current media sensations like Dr. Kevorkian are not arguing for a right to die but for a right to kill and be killed. People like Dr. Kevorkian and his followers have no respect for moral and wise principles -- and have a reckless contempt for moral tradition -- as they continue to promote medical killing. They will create a climate where we will have large numbers of weak and vulnerable people who will be categorized once again as able to be "medically terminated."
Because we as a society have little regard for human life, we would then have a massive killing of elderly and terminally ill patients, much like the case of abortion. Like abortion, killing at the end of life will likely be proven to be as indiscriminate and tragic as abortion has at the beginning of life. Large numbers of innocent, weak, disabled, and defenseless people will be further marginalized and put at serious risk. It is phony to think that we have to kill in order to control suffering.
We ought not cross the boundary between healing and killing. One of the most awesome things in life is to die, and it is critical that we learn to die well. As Wendy Zobra states in her article on death in Christianity Today, "We are still left to wonder why death must be preceded by so many twists and turns before finally having its way with us. But in all the wondering, when we surrender how we die into the hands of the One who gave us life, we are freed from the limitation of human definitions of dignity, and the worthiness, and beauty, and quality of life." Also, as Paul states in I Corinthians on God's final triumph over death, "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."
Our first place winner, Joel Dombrowski, graduated this spring from Cathedral Prep High School in Erie, Pennsylvania. Joel went on to represent northwestern Pennsylvania at the State Oratory Contest held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania this past May.