Why Not Euthanasia?

It is not immoral to have pain. Pain is one of the sad consequences of Original Sin. The Original Sin of our first parents was immoral because it involved the abuse of free will, but all subsequent non-rational results of that First Fall are not immoral. Hence, earthquakes, accidents and diseases are not intrinsically (in and of themselves) immoral. Death is not "undignified"; it is part of being human. But, euthanasia, on the other hand, is murder.

"THE CHURCH JUST WANTS TO SEE PEOPLE SUFFER!"

Acceptance of one's own pain is meritorious. Great spiritual benefit can be gained from accepting pain. Christianity is synonymous with suffering. Great graces are obtained by those people who heroically accept the pain of an illness, but such heroism is not the duty of everyone because there is nothing wrong with taking all moral means to seek relief from pain. It is immoral to relieve someone's pain by killing them no matter how peaceful their death may seem. However, palliative care is today offered to ease the suffering of an ill person. But any treatment which intends to cause death, albeit for the sole purpose of eliminating pain, is an immoral act because God alone is the Author of life and His 5th Commandment forbids murder, so taking the life of an innocent person by euthanasia is sinful (Matt 5: 21-22).

"THE CHURCH'S STANCE ON EUTHANASIA IS INSENSITIVE AND UNREALISTIC."

There now exist many pain-killing drugs that can help terminally ill patients; their use, even at the risk of quickening death, can be moral IF death is not intended (CCC 2279). Many patients who are offered euthanasia might not be able to make a rational decision or might change their mind but be incapable of telling the doctors. In Holland where euthanasia is legal, old people are now frightened of going to hospital because hundreds of patients are killed who did not request death. Many people recover after being 'written off' by doctors. Old people need special love and attention rather than being made to feel they are a nuisance.

"EUTHANASIA IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE EXERCISE OF FREEDOM."

Sick people may now feel pressured to opt for euthanasia when, in their hearts, they want to continue living. Euthanasia devalues human life by making it disposable - it is the first step on a slippery slope that ends in the nightmare 'brave new world' of a society with no freedom. Freedom is the right to choose the good. Euthanasia destroys the relationship of trust between doctors and patients. Under the Hippocratic Oath doctors MUST never aim to destroy life.

"PEOPLE WHO PRACTICE EUTHANASIA ARE HUMANE AND LOVING INDIVIDUALS."

People who engage in the practice of euthanasia are playing at being God, they are breaking the 1st and the 5th Commandments. Jesus [the Church] sees nothing wrong in withholding treatment from a patient, at their own wish, who would die of natural causes in say 2 weeks, rather than be kept alive for 3 weeks by medical measures that are disproportionate to the good expected or that are cumbersome. (See Evangelium Vitae, where Pope John Paul II explains why extraordinary or excessive medical means to prolong life are not necessary so long as the normal care due to a sick person [food, water & painkillers] is not interrupted.)

"WHAT OF OCCASIONS WHEN NO PAIN RELIEF IS AVAILABLE?"

With competent medical care, no-one needs to die in unrelenting pain these days. Doctors should kill the pain, not the patient. However, many examples could be given where pain relief is unavailable, but still, any deliberate killing, no matter how severe the human suffering, cannot be morally justified because we must never do evil that good may come of it. We need only look at God's own Son's suffering on the Cross before His own mother to see the extent to which God permits suffering in the human race. Saint Padre Pio, the mystic, said that if we knew the value of suffering we would ask for more! God has not abandoned us to suffering alone. Jesus came and filled human suffering with His presence. Euthanasia denies the virtue of faith that guarantees no-one is tested beyond his strength.

"SO YOU WOUDN'T PUT A PERSON OUT OF THEIR MYSERY? I WOULDN'T TREAT MY DOG LIKE THAT!"

Neither would I. I would put my dog out of its misery if it was in terminal pain and no pain-killers were available. My dog has no spiritual soul. My dog is not made in God's image. Humans are of much more value than animals (Matt 12:12). Humans are governed by the moral law of God that says we must not do evil that good might come of it (Rom 3:8). Harming our spiritual soul by breaking God's moral law is infinitely worse than allowing our bodies to suffer excruciating pain (when no pain relief is available) because physical pain is temporary but Hell (the ultimate penalty for disobeying God's law) is permanent. It appears utterly malicious (in a situation where no pain-relief is available) to see a human person suffer and not "put them out of their misery" " UNLESS eternal life really does exist " then it is utter madness to do so. We need only consider the crucifixion of the Son of God, or the painful deaths of the martyrs of His Church, to see just how much excruciating pain (without pain-relief) is tolerated by God. Pain accepted by the sufferer, albeit with extreme difficulty, is redemptive. BUT it must be emphasised that such acceptance is not compulsory if moral forms of pain-relief are available. This particular argument (I wouldn't treat my dog like that) is often used to divert attention from the vast majority of cases where euthanasia is committed in spite of pain-relief being available.

"BUT IT'S A CONTRADICTION TO BE TOLD TO ACCEPT SUFFERING BUT TO ALSO BE TOLD TO TRY TO ALLEVIATE THE PAIN OF OTHERS."

This contradiction is only apparent. Firstly, because of the results of Original Sin, suffering is a reality in our world whether we accept it or not. Secondly, those who work to help others (such as Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity) are submitting their wills to God; that submission is the end, not the pain itself. So we must avoid the attitude that once we have eliminated the pain of the sufferer everything is fine. For saintly people like Mother Teresa the sufferer should be helped to recognize that the carer did work to alleviate the pain but also helped the sufferer to accept whatever God sends as His will. So, we glorify God in two ways: by serving Him in our sick friend and by accepting His will for us no matter what it may be. If we develop the right attitude to suffering, we will discover the truth of one of the great paradoxes of Christianity: that the saints who suffered (and there is no saint who didn't suffer in some manner) were the happiest people. Christ will help us carry our cross; He has already led the way. And He has shown us that after the cross comes the Resurrection.

References:
Sheed, F. Theology and Sanity. Drummey, Catholic Replies. Hayes et al, Catholicism and Ethics. Carroll, A. Following Christ in the World.

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.