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The Problem of Euthanasia

I just read an article (http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/05/20803178-painless-death-or-precipitous-cliff-transsexual-chooses-euthanasia-after-failed-operation?lite) on the NBC News website about a “man” who choose to be euthanized because of “unbearable psychological suffering.”  “He” was born a woman and choose to have a sex change operation but the operation did not go as she expected.  So she choose to be euthanized rather than deal with the “unbearable psychological suffering.”

It is not my intent to write about homosexuality or sex change operations.  I think most people who read my blog would be aware that the Catholic Church does not approve of sex change operations.  I would also say that for those born with a homosexual inclination, the changes of dealing with these can be traumatic.

That being said, what I do want to write about today is the question of euthanasia.  This person was euthanized in Belgium, one of just three countries where euthanasia is legal in the whole country.  Even though it is legal, I had thought it was only allowed in cases of a terminal illness.  From this case, it is clear that the threshold is lower.

The Catholic Church is against euthanasia but I think this needs clarification.  As the Church sees it, euthanasia is to actively take steps to end a person’s life.  I stress “actively” because the Church does not understand that there may come a time when it is not reasonable or appropriate to continue treatment when there is a terminal illness.

I have seen this in my own family.  Around the age of 53 my mother was diagnosed with emphysema and lived with it as it got worse for about ten years.  At the very end, she was diagnosed with lung cancer but not soon enough because we just thought it was the emphysema getting worse.  While they tried to treat the cancer she spent the last nine days on a ventilator.  When it become obvious the treatment was not working and there was no hope of recovery we (she was not conscious to make the decision for herself) withdrew the ventilator.  This is completely in accord with Church teaching.

Even when it is acceptable to stop extraordinary means to keep a person alive, it is always appropriate to

1.  Treat the person with proper human dignity.

2.  Manage their pain to keep them comfortable.

3.  As long as they are able to properly digest it, provide food and water (using a feeding tube if necessary).

What is not appropriate, and defined as euthanasia by the Church, is to actively take the life of anyone, even with a terminal illness.  By “active” we mean to use means such as administering a lethal dose of medicine to deliberately end a person’s life.  I stress deliberately because as a person’s condition worsens, they may need increasing doses of pain medicine.  High doses may inhibit breathing.  Pain medicines should also be administered at the lowest dose possible and increased only when necessary.

This is only a beginning discussion on Euthanasia, if you would like to read more this on my website check out biomedical ethics and euthanasia .  Please note I just discovered the link needs to be updated on these pages for the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, Fifth Edition so I am providing the correct link here (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Ethical-Religious-Directives-Catholic-Health-Care-Services-fifth-edition-2009.pdf) until I can update it on my website.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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