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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

lux.teachings: Killing or Caring? Moral Issues and Euthanasia

At our most recent lux.teachings we looked at the topic of Moral Issues and Euthanasia. For the PDF of our introductory video click here.

Fr Francis Higgins led a discussion about what the Church teaches about moral issues and Euthanasia using three different case studies. We discussed what we thought would be the right thing to do for each situation and then Fr Francis explained the Church’s response, which is shown below:

Situation One

“The government of this country proposes that for the sake of the country as a whole, people should volunteer for euthanasia once they reach the age of 70 years”

What principles or values are challenged by this type of proposal?

The Church’s response:

The right to life.

“The Declaration on Euthanasia”, SCDF, 5th May 1980

“Human life is a gift of God’s love which we are called upon to preserve and make fruitful. Therefore no one can make an attempt on the life of an innocent person without opposing God’s love for that person and therefore without committing a crime of the utmost gravity”.

  • Life is sacred
  • No one can permit the taking of innocent life, either by deliberate act or omission

Situation Two

“John is 65 and is terminally ill with cancer of the stomach. He is in considerable pain. This pain can be relieved by administering morphine and other strong drugs, but this will have the effect on shortening his life”.

Are we expected to prolong life at all costs?

The Church’s response:

Care of the dying

“In this case, death is in no way intended or sought, even if the risk of it is reasonably taken; the intention is simply to relieve pain effectively, using for this purpose painkillers available to medicine”.

  • By applying the principle of double effect it is possible to administer a drug which has two distinct effects, i.e. the relief of pain and the shortening of life

Situation Three

“John Jones, aged 33, was paralysed from the neck down in a motor bike accident. Since then he has been unable to breathe on his own. He has “no control over his person and receives no enjoyment out of life”. He has petitioned the court for permission to turn off the ventilator himself and asked for a sedative for the pain and distress he would experience before dying”.

What criteria should we use to judge the point of death? He is already dead?

Are we obliged to provide all possible forms of available treatment regardless of the possible results or the burden of the treatment itself?

The Church’s response:

Due proportion in the use of remedies

“Some people speak of “proportionate and disproportionate means of treatment”. In any given case it will be possible to make a correct judgement as to the means of treatment by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his/her physical and moral resources….it may be judged that the investment in instruments and personnel is disproportionate to the results foreseen; it may also be judged that the techniques applied impose on the patient strain or suffering out of proportion with the benefits which he or she may gain from such techniques”.

  • We are not morally obliged to provide treatment which will not provide a proportionate improvement in the quality of life as a whole, compared with the burden of the treatment
  • Death is not a failure, but an acceptance of our human condition

This shows that the Church is quite sympathetic and loving in its response to these issues.

What do you think?

Watch out for our next lux.teachings on Sunday 2nd June at St Augustine’s, Milton Keynes!