Hope in the Battle Against Euthanasia

Small but hopeful news from the euthanasia front here in Canada, which, as you may be aware, along with its no-holds-barred-free-for-all abortion policy (not unlike North Korea), as of last June now also has the unenviable distinction of becoming one of the few nations to universally legalize euthanasia. Death for all, underwritten, and undertaken by the state. Of course, there are the usual “safeguards,” which I have discussed previously, most of which will be whittled away as invasions of privacy and autonomy. But here is the small hope:  A certain number of physicians are now refusing to administer “medical assistance in dying” which, for the euphemistically challenged, means they are getting squeamish about murdering their patients, however peacefully and gently this is done.

No kidding. Murder does give one pause, and, shall we say, changes things. As Cain discovered all those years ago, it kind of puts a mark on you, one of those sins crying out to heaven for vengeance. Perhaps a faint hint of that cry is reaching the stuffed ears and hardened hearts of our doctors.

One hopes the death-doctors are acting in some level of ignorance, which does not seem to be completely invincible, for, so far, 24 physicians have removed their names, with another 30 putting theirs “on hold.” One of the reasons given is the fear of legal retribution.  Criminal charges, perhaps, but now that euthanasia is the “law of the land,” that seems unlikely. At least, so it is claimed, but one never really knows in our current unstable legal structure. As the late Joseph Sobran would say, with life-long legislators, whose job it is to make ever-new laws on a daily basis, many of them useless, contradictory, burdensome, or, in this case, downright evil, one never knows quite what is around the legislative and juridical corner.

Besides criminal offenses, there is still the danger of lawsuits. Physicians could be hauled into court for, ironically, wrongful death (as many ob-gyns now fear the oxymoronic “wrongful birth” if a baby is handicapped or deformed). With the vagueness of the law, its conditions and safeguards, how does a medical professional know whether he is following the rules?

A large part of this is the ever-present problem of the nature of consent. Who’s to say who wants to die?  What if the patient is non compos mentis? Can euthanasia be pre-arranged, to be administered at a certain point in the degradation of the patient’s psychophysiological state, say, when he loses the power of speech, or movement, or going to the bathroom?  Can a family member, an executor, or one with power-of-attorney, lawfully permit someone to be euthanized? Can someone back out, even at the last minute?

Added to this are also the practical issues: finding the right medications, all the paperwork and bureaucracy, crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s in thanatophilic forms that look as though transported here from some future dystopia (but who needs the future, when it’s already here?).

But the deeper reason, I would posit, even if not admitted, and the one that should give us some dimly burning wick of hope, can be found in paragraph 1860 of the Catechism, a line that I quote often in class, that “no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law.” We have an innate and ineradicable knowledge of moral principles, as the Church has taught, from Saint Paul in the first chapter of Romans to Saint Thomas in the Prima Pars of the Summa (q. 79) all the way to John Paul II and Veritatis Splendor.  Man has an inborn awareness of the natural moral law, termed synderesis, which murmurs at evil and approves us in the good. This knowledge of the natural law precedes Christianity, going back through Cicero, Aristotle, Moses, Noah, all the way to the very dawn of Man’s time here on Earth. We are not to decide good and evil; that choice has been made for us.

Of course, this natural knowledge has often been obscured and mutilated, leaving us at times in the darkest moral and spiritual blindness, but it is always there, deep down, providing the basis for the further formation of conscience, through study, reading, prayer, advice, experience, self-reflection and, not least through the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (which is why it’s always best to be Catholic).

Of course, few in today’s world so form their conscience, even within the Church. In fact, there seems rather to be a lot of deformation of conscience going on (parents: beware the modern, agnostic, secular state-run school system, and three cheers for good, solid, orthodox, classical private education). Even in the most malformed soul, however, there will always remain a trace of synderesis, some goodness, truth and beauty, even if buried deep down. That is why our world, mired in evils of all stripes, still frowns at adultery, and condemns such things as pedophilia and rape (although the walls against these unmentionables are being dismantled, and at a self-professed Catholic university no less, as Mr. Kilpatrick so aptly and disturbingly described the other day).

Which brings us back to the physicians, most of whom receive little or no deep nor true moral, philosophical or theological formation in their studies, so are left largely to their synderesis along with whatever smattering of misguided ethics they receive in between anatomy and clinics in med school. Sure enough, in their Hippocratic Oath, we see one of the synderetic principles, a promise to “first, do no harm,” and that cannot but echo in their conscience.

Hence the defection of the 24 from the ranks of paid medical assassins, a number that we can only hope will grow.

What happens, however, when and if enough physicians cannot be found?  The imagination runs free with roving death-squads, whose specialty will be nothing but “assistance in dying,” white-coated barbarians, smooth and soothing of speech, with soft, technical hands.

Since the passage of Canada’s euthanasia law last June, 2016, reports claim that, as of a couple of weeks ago, 744 people have officially been euthanized (with British Columbia, of all places, leading the pack in terms of provinces, at 154. Of course, beautiful as it is, BC is also one of the least religious and most atheistic part of Canada). One physician of the fairer sex has purportedly killed 40 patients, making her, from a moral perspective, one of the worst mass-murderers in Canadian history, paid and sanctioned by the government, of course, carrying out the same acts that sent Dr. Jack Kevorkian to the slammer for 10-25 years in 1999. The actual number euthanized is likely far higher than the 744, for how many have been allowed to die by omission, withholding necessary medications, even food and water, failure of treatment, or just offing them in a quiet moment with a snowball of morphine, without fanfare and paperwork, with “cause of death” being listed as “natural causes.” Murder and lying often go together.

Yes, beneath all the antiseptic environment and euphemisms, the squeamishness and unpleasantness of the whole sorry business remains, and we are left wondering how many physicians will actually take part? Well, if the state can’t find the numbers, they will just extend the search.  It does not take advanced medical knowledge to kill someone, and can be done by nurses, assistants, even by trained lay-people, if push comes to shove.

So fear not, all you supporters of euthanasia (who are likely not reading this article, but you may know some). Now that it is law, “medical assistance in death” will and must be provided, by hooking the unwilling or by downright crooks, even if the bureaucrats have to run roughshod over a few consciences. But a state along with its operatives unhinged from the truth quickly becomes a brutal and inhuman thing, as history has all too often proved. John Paul II declared in 1991 that “a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism,” and I am not sure even how “thinly disguised” Canada is anymore.

Our task? Well, I would recommend that every physician, nurse and all the rest who care for patients at the end of life stand firm in the truth, like Thomas More, and, in a good and true conscience, adamantly refuse to do or even permit harm in the name of the law and misguided compassion, even if it means loss of employment or, in an ironic twist to Kevorkian, being brought to court for not killing. We may not yet have to give up our life, but, again, to John Paul II who, towards the end of Veritatis, offers the follow exhortation:

Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. (93)

As Nietzsche predicted, we will call evil good, and good evil. But this most fundamental metaphysical distinction cannot be completely stamped out from the human heart, and the light of Christ’s truth will keep burning in each soul until his return, or until we go to meet him. In that fateful encounter, we will all be asked how we used our freedom in the light of that truth. Let’s pray that a lot more physicians join the 24.

John Paul Meenan

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John Paul Meenan is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Natural Science at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada. He edits and writes at Catholic Insight.

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