Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Suicide, End of Life, and Sacrifice

Once a week, my wife and I and a friend attend an adult catechetics class offered by my local parish. We're very blessed to have an emeritus professor of history run the course, which means all the lectures are informative and enlightening, and the concluding discussions fruitful. Anyway, last night we discussed the differences between suicide, refusing extraordinary treatments to prolong life, and acceptable sacrifice. And God being a providential God, I read the following this morning at The Cafeteria is Closed Blog:

ROME: The Vatican's rigid opposition to euthanasia has come under fire from within its own ranks after it denied a religious funeral to a paralysed man who had asked to be removed from a life-saving respirator.

The influential former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said on Sunday that terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatments and that the doctors who assist them should be protected by law.

Now the case in questions concerns a Italian man suffering from muscular dystrophy who was being kept alive by a respirator. The Church denied him a Catholic funeral, saying that he had frequently publicly expressed a desire to end his life, and thus clearly opposed Catholic doctrine. Since many people, and I'm assuming that also means most Italians, don't know the Church's stance on end of life questions, some clarification is in order. But let's organize the facts first:

(1) A man was suffering from a terminal illness.
(2) The man was being kept alive by a respirator.
(3) The man had frequently requested that his life be ended.
(4) Death was procured by the doctor removing the man from the respirator.

Catholic doctrine, according to the Catechism, clearly states that no person man make an act which results in definite death. Such an act not only endangers our soul, but it also endangers the soul of any person who participates in the death, such as the doctor in this case. The Catechism however also states that a person may refuse 'extraordinary' treatments which prolong death. Can a respirator be considered 'extraordinary' treatment?

The respirator question, I think, is something of a red herring. The key to this problem is, once again, intentionality. It is clear from the news reports and the reaction of the Church that the suffering man had made it clear that he sought to end his life. This is akin to suicide, and thus the Church made the correct, however unpopular, decision to not afford this man a Catholic funeral.

1 comment:

Harrison said...

Them end of life issues are always sticky, never black and white, and always particular to the case. I think you're right because of his intention to end his life, though the only reason he was being kept alive was by extra ordinary means...a Catholic Ethics...always gives someone something to ponder!