Dignity in the Face of Death

On Sunday night, the world was faced with the heartbreaking news of Brittany Maynard’s death. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and told she had a limited number of months to live, she and her husband moved to the State of Oregon where she could legally end her own life and see to it that she “died with dignity.” In reality, what she was really trying to do was avoid the forthcoming pain, under the guise of “dying with dignity”.

As Catholics, we understand that the dignity of the human person is rooted in our being created in the image and likeness of God. Our dignity is fulfilled in our vocation to live in eternal happiness with God (in both this world and the next), and we fully experience what it means to be human when we freely direct ourselves towards our eternal destiny. Because of what Christ did on the Cross, death no longer has the final say. Jesus, the God-man, suffered in our place. He has, therefore, by his own blood, redeemed even our human suffering. Our suffering and death no longer automatically mean our spiritual death. Death and suffering can be used by God for our good and can be redemptive for us and others.

agonyinthegardenIt says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.” Human life is sacred from conception to natural death because “from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being,” including himself.

Many are calling Brittany’s choice “heroic”, and “not suicide”, because she would have rather lived, but due to the fact that she was expected to die from the disease anyways, it was better for her to die without great pain. I do not propose to know what it is like to suffer in this way, however, the truth is, none of us really want to suffer, to feel pain. Pain, however, is part of the reality of the fallen human condition. Do not be deceived. Euthanasia does not make it truly possible for our loved ones or ourselves to avoid suffering.

Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide is the intentional act of killing oneself, which is what Brittany did. At its heart, suicide truly lacks heroism and courage. In the case of Brittany, she was not courageous enough to face her pain to come. In committing suicide, we claim our life as our own; our life is ours to do whatever we want with it, whatever the cost, without truly considering anyone else.

The call of the Gospel is the opposite to this current secular worldview. The call of the Gospel is a call to lay down our lives in love and service to God and for others. It is a call to embrace our crosses. It is in responding to that call that we realize what it means to be truly human. St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body shares that we find what it means to be human by self-donation. It is precisely for this reason that Christ calls us to pick up our Cross, just as He did, and follow him. It is only in doing this that we will enter into communion with Him in this life and the next.

Recently, I was reflecting on the prayer of the “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God) that we say at every Roman Catholic Mass. I realized in a new way how Christ is both the Priest and Victim. Jesus offered his life in sacrifice for us, and He calls us to imitate Him. In this way, we need to make our lives a living sacrifice. He made the blood sacrifice that was necessary for our salvation. Just like Christ, we can learn to love in the times that are difficult. We can learn to love through our suffering. Our Blessed Lord told St. Faustina, “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things; one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.”

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

palliativecareWith Brittany Maynard’s suicide now made public, this will certainly spark a more widespread debate and push toward giving more people the ability to choose the same outcome for their life, when faced with suffering and pain. William L. Shirer was an American journalist, war correspondent, and historian. He once interviewed a Nazi judge who was condemned to death at Nuremberg. The judge had wept saying, “How could it have come to this?” and Mr. Shirer responded to him, “Herr Judge, it came to this the first time you authorized the killing of an innocent life.”

The more that Euthanasia may be approved and legalized, the worse things will become. It is surely an unavoidable slippery slope. Holland legalized euthanasia in 1984. What began as simply a few extraordinary cases, such as what Brittany Maynard and others are vouching for, has now become a routine practice. Statistics show that approximately “130,000 people die each year in Holland, and up to 20,000 are either killed or helped to die by doctors. As many as half did not ask to be killed.” These numbers now include newborns who are said to have a poor quality of life, depressed adults who are physically well, as well as depressed teenagers. Theo Boer, a European who was once adamantly for euthanasia, is now saying, “don’t do it.”

Pro-euthanasia advocates consistently emphasize the reasons for choosing it because of the expected uncontrollable and agonizing pain. The truth is that physical pain, with some rare exceptions, can certainly be controlled, even in a drug induced coma, if it be necessary. The type of pain which is the primary reason why people seek to be killed, is emotional pain, from despair and hopelessness, to being unloved and alone, being tired of living life, and not wanting to be dependent on others.

saynotoeuthanasiaThere are many reasons why we should be actively fighting euthanasia, and fighting for the bettering of quality health care, particularly end of life care. These reasons to oppose euthanasia include:

  • The fact that doctors are very often wrong in judging when or that a patient will die. Sometimes a patient can make an unexpected recovery.
  • When the only living witnesses are those who want the person dead, who is there to confirm that they actually asked to die?
  • If society approves euthanasia, many will ask for it so that they avoid being a burden to their family.
  • Doctors and family members can easily pressure patients into asking to die.
  • In Holland, advancements in palliative care have practically disappeared. There are now only a small handful of hospices there. In nearby Britain, there are over 300 hospices.
  • Given the increasing numbers of older people and the costs of their health care, good palliative care will quickly become unavailable if euthanasia becomes legal.

We should look to the wisdom of the Church for how to properly care for those who are suffering. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded. Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected. Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

All of us will face our time to die, whether through tragic accidents, death in our sleep, or terminal illnesses – death is coming for every one of us. St. Therese of Lisieux, in her last words, said “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me. My God, I love you.” May we not only pray for the protection of human life from conception to natural death, and for an increase in the betterment of the care that we provide to those who are suffering, but may we fight with every ounce of our being for the true dignity of the human person, which is not found in ease of life, but in attaining union with God.









About orthojulie

I am a 26 year old wife and Catholic, who loves art, reading, doing housewifey things, and the outdoors (when the weather is nice). Though I make bad jokes, I can at least write decent posts for orthodoxcatholicism.com. Take a read and leave a comment!

Posted on November 4, 2014, in Catholic, Christian Life, Current Events, death, Euthanasia, pro-life, Redemptive Suffering, Suicide and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. the heart breaking news of her murder, you should write.

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