Our time on Earth is brief. Every day, week, month, year just seems to elapse quicker than did the last. None of us knows the hour of our death, which is one reason why Catholics pray to Our Lady, that at the end of our sojourn in this life we may be granted a merciful judgement, having died in God's friendship, fortified by the Sacraments.
Catholics used to describe such an end as a 'good and happy death'. In
that sense, Catholics are keen on euthanasia - which means 'good death',
because while we may require purification after death, our long term
vision is nothing more or less than the Beatific Vision of God Himself.
That's a good death.
A bad death is the one in which a person dies in a state of mortal sin,
unrepentant. Those who die in such a state, according to the Church's
teaching, have their state fixed in rejection of God and spend eternity
eternally separated from Him in a place we know as Hell.
So, what would constitute an ugly death? Well, actually the ugly death
is every death, since death is the worst possible thing anyone can
imagine. It is the separation of the soul from the body. It is the end
of man's time in this World - the only World to which we are accustomed.
A man may, possibly, go through a life knowing few people, he can cut
himself off from all social contact if he wills, but he knows the World,
for it is all he has known. The other side of the veil, to man, is
unknown, and it is the unknown that strikes terror and dread into the
soul of man. The end of temporal existence is a horror.
And even God, Himself, not only knows this by virtue of his omniscience,
but because the second Person of the Trinity experienced it when He
became Man and 'suffered death and was buried'. God, in Jesus Christ,
knows the terrible reality of facing death in all its reality. Few, if
anyone, would maintain that death is a good thing. Objectively, death is
a bad thing - even an evil - despite the fact that it is the just
penalty incurred by man in the aftermath of the Fall.
So, if death, it is universally agreed, is a 'bad thing', then why would
anyone advocate either suicide or encourage or abett the death of
themselves or another? If death, terrible as it is, is an accepted part
of human experience, then surely we human beings would desire that
death be postponed or that life be honoured or cherished as long as it
is possible. Why should anyone desire to hasten death, if it is the
least attractive of all human experiences?
Euthanasia enthusiasts, or 'assisted dying' advocates argue that because
human suffering, illness, and pain are so horrendous, that a person
should be able to choose death over life with an incurable or
debilitating disease or illness, or a condition that leads a person to a
point at which their life is 'no longer worth living' or a life which
is no longer worthy of being called a human life, pointing at the
perceived loss of dignity that many conditions bring about.
Yet, hitherto the 21st century, human societies, largely, have held that
while sickness, illness, pain, dementia, disability and the range of
sufferings which afflict the human race are evils, the worst of all
evils is death itself. The idea that the best possible solution to
weakness, sickness, illness, disease, suffering and the loss of
perceived dignity or purpose, or the ability to be 'productive', or some
human imperfection is death has historically been anaethama to the
West. The only way in which death has been prescribed as a solution to
humanity's ills has been as punishment for a terrible crime. This is
true - that is - until Germany became the first country to legalise
voluntary euthanasia under the rule of one Adolf Hitler. Aside from
this, no other culture or community that has embraced suicide as
integral to its philosophy has been widely condemned as the result of an
either religiously motivated or pathologically-motivated cult.
So, why should it be considered that the movement in the United Kingdom
advocating 'assisted suicide' as the answer to human suffering is any
different to the suicide cults which have preceded it, or the voluntary
euthanasia programme of Nazi Germany, that paved the way for a less
voluntary euthanasia programme of which the World recoils in horror?
Yet, no Churchman, no serious Churchman could argue against the 'right
to die', since it is a right that comes to us merely be being born into
this World. What someone could question, however, is whether anyone has
the right to choose when they die.
Despite the fact that death is the most feared of human experiences,
precisely because it represents an unknown state as the end of existence
as we know it, perversely is the very reason why advertising it as a
'choice' can be made so appealing. Since because the hour and manner of
our death, with the suffering that precedes it, is so frightening, and
because it is something over which we humans have no control, if we can
at least control one aspect of death - the timing - then it provides us
with an illusion of safety, security and control that we do not have if
we allow it to occur naturally.
And, futher, if we can convince ourselves that the manner and hour of
our death are matters of our own choosing - that it can be controlled -
then such a 'service' as 'assisted suicide' can even be sold to us, as
it has been, most notably in Switzerland at its notorious Dignitas
clinics. And being 'sold' it is, under the advertisement 'dignity in
dying', a phrase to which we shall return later. But let us first
consider where we are.
In order for us to be convinced that we can procure an 'assisted
suicide' in good conscience, because such a service we consider our
'right', then we first have to believe that the timing of our own death
is our choice. We have, too, to be convinced that our life is our
possession. 'It's my life' to do with 'what I choose' is the oft heard
But if we are to say that ownership of human life belongs to us as
individuals, then we must ask the question: to whom does this life
belong after death? It may be 'my life' now, but is it 'my life'
after the moment of 'my death', since I no longer exist in the body?
Like all human possessions, life, whether you believe in God, or not, is
surely only on loan. The Catholic Church posits that, like all human
possessions, whether it be an antique, a family heirloom, a favourite
picture or a book, life too belongs to a person until death. Like any
other possession, ownership of life must pass from the current owner
onto another who is in receipt of it.
Whatever way you look at it, we can say 'It's my life' while we are
living, but the claim loses all sense and meaning when we are dead since
we can no longer claim ownership of even the clothes we are wearing, or
the clock on the wall that tells of the time of our death. The clock
will remain perhaps far long after we have been there. Perhaps the clock
will tell the right time for many of its owners until the End of Time
itself, but we? We shall have long gone. Even by objective standards,
anyone would think that the clock is more important than a human life
since it may well last and be treasured on earth for longer - far longer
- than not just the person who owned it, but the memory of a person
himself in the hearts of men.
The clock may be passed onto a relative or a third party in this World,
but a human life can be passed onto nobody in this World. So, after
death, if we can no longer say, 'It's my life to do with as I will',
then to whom does ownership of this human life pass? The Catholic Church
would say: to the God who made it - to the God who redeemed it - to the
God who gave that individual the free will to either cherish it and
honour it, or, conversely to dishonour it and to destroy it.
Further, the claim that 'it is my life to do with as I will' is given
greater force and gravity by a sober assessment of the statement, since
the possibility exists that the one who makes the claim does so knowing
that something within himself is immortal. For if I say, 'It is my body,
it is my life to do with as I will' and do not believe that something
within me is immortal then I appear as a fool, since those around me
know full well that while my life is my possession, the lease expires
upon my death. It only makes logical sense if I say it in the knowledge
that something within me belongs to me, is indeed mine, forever and that
wherever it is that I go after death, I will take that 'I', that 'my'
with me to that place. In order that 'its my life' make sense I have to
believe I am immortal in some sense or that something within me is
infinite, despite the fact that my bodily existence is finite.
Therefore, the statement that it is 'my life, my body' only makes
logical sense if I believe that it is also 'my immortal soul'. Now, you
see the distinction, because while a life belongs to a man in this World
and all life goes out of a man upon death and returns to his Creator,
the Author of Life, the soul too belongs to a man, a soul which either
lives forever happily with God in eternity after a period of purgation,
or does not.
So, we see now that the claim to assisted suicide upon the grounds that
'its my life' is not so simple as it first appears, when we assume that
we can claim it, in some instrinsic sense, forever, and that it is only
when we do so that our bold claim makes sound sense. Yet, it is
precisely at this point that our argument that we can procure this
service of 'assisted suicide' falls down, since if I have a soul, a soul
that lives forever, then I would be wise to do what I can to preserve
my soul and place my death trustfully in the hands of my Creator, for He
has entrusted this gift of life to me for His service and glory. For me
to destroy that which He has made, even my own self, who I may either
love or loathe, is to destroy that great gift of life which He gave me.
Even were we not to have the Ten Commandments which help us very much in
this matter - this decision of life and death - then it would be wise
for me to pray fervently for guidance in this very important matter,
before I either kill myself, or freely allow another party to do it for
me, since if I live forever in the state in which I have died, then that
decision will have serious consequences for me when I approach the Seat
of Judgment which is nothing other than my Conscience in the light of
Now, we live in a society which is vastly more atheistic and secular in
belief than were previous generations and, as a Catholic, all I can say
is that, given what the Church teaches about both suicide and murder as
grave dangers to the immortal souls of those who commit them, the best
that we can say of those Governments, parts of Governments, celebrities
and children's books authors currently considering or promoting the idea
of 'assisted suicide' as a potential answer to a host of modern day
problems, economic problems, as well as social and societal ills, is
that they have not thought them through very well. And, all I have
discussed, so far, is the awful reality of death that we must all
undergo, for 'after death, comes judgment'. From what I hear of the
Church's mystics, even purgatory is a fate worse than physical pain and
incurable terminal disease in this life.
We have not yet even considered the huge social ramifications involved
in the 'assisted suicide' debate. That will have to be dealt with in the
next post. Suffice to say, however, that the trends emerging in the
United Kingdom, as well as other countries signalling an interest in
assisted suicide, is that both the State and the Media consider that
while our right to life is arbitrary and at the mercy of doctors,
nurses, mothers and fathers, our 'right to die' could be deemed, in the
future, absolutely guaranteed. It was guarateed already, of course, its
just the timing that is so crucial.