Physician-Assisted Suicide and Spiritual Suicide

On the morning of Friday, February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Canada now joins a small, elite group of madly progressive countries in abandoning the most fundamental principle in all of nature.

All living things, from an ameba to a human being seek to preserve their lives. Striving to live is first and foremost what living things do. For humans, who have reason and free will as well as instinct, the willful desire to live, is the flame which we must encourage in each other when we are old and sick and suffering and every breath becomes a battle. We must hold our post even and especially when the enemy is sure to vanquish us, because to continue to strive to live is to keep faith with the deepest thing within us. It is noble and worthy of the breath of God within us. It is also to recognize that truth does not begin and end within us. Our lives do not belong to us. We dare not take from God the power over life and death which belongs to Him alone.

But the Supreme Court of Canada long ago left behind nature and holy reverence. It has struck down laws prohibiting abortion, and for this the innocent blood of millions indicts the court. It has struck down laws preserving marriage, and for this, untold numbers of broken hearts and fatherless children indict the court. It has struck down laws prohibiting prostitution, and for this thousands upon thousands of persons created in the image of God have been reduced to meat, to be used and abused, these humiliated victims indict the court. And once again, in striking down laws which prohibit doctors from assisting their patients in killing themselves, the court has inserted a poisonous siringe in the heart of the one true test of the greatness of a people, how it treats the weak, the defenseless and the needy. The Supreme Court of Canada has abandoned the natural foundations of all that is good and healthy and life giving. To wear the black robes of the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada is to be draped in shame.

The sickness in the soul of Canada has been a long time festering. Abortion was legalized in Canada in 1969, some 46 years ago. Everyone born in Canada since 1969 has been born into a country in which they could have been legally killed. Their being, while in the womb, was not a good in itself, protected by law. Their lives were contingent upon the good will of their mothers.

 

Once born, abortion was no longer a mortal threat—you had made it past the birth threshold. But that you might have been killed, that it would have been OK to kill you, this is an existential devaluation which continues beyond birth. The shadow of death persists.

Abortion has created a deep-seated insecurity among all those born since the legalization of abortion. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most basic needs must be satisfied before higher order needs can be addressed. Survival needs must be attended to before we can concern ourselves with safety and security needs, social needs, self-esteem needs and transcendent spiritual needs. Abortion tethers the souls of all of us to legally sanctioned murder and holds us back from the hope and joy necessary to fully develop the higher reaches of our souls. Abortion killed millions upon millions of babies, but it has constricted the psychological growth of those who made it through, those who weren’t aborted.

Physician-assisted suicide is an obvious continuation of the death logic of abortion. Like abortion which was initially promoted as a response to hard cases but has in practise become birth control, physician-assisted suicide has been promoted as a response to desperate pain, but elsewhere in the world where it is already practiced, physician-assisted suicide has become a means of disposing of the unwanted. It is easy to see the justification for a very aggressive deployment of physician-assisted suicide. Our population has been rapidly aging and the increased health care costs of the aged have been consuming ever larger proportions of government budgets. Physician-assisted suicide will not be limited to desperate pain.

As of February 6, the handicapped, the sick and the aged have been told that they may enlist the services of a physician to commit suicide. With icy faux compassion they have been told that they are no longer part of the most fundamental human contract which binds us all, the mutually supported obligation to strive to live. And of course what is allowed will soon enough be prescribed. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is often committed without the consent of the person killed. Before long physician assisted suicide will become state sponsored homicide. No, physician-assisted suicide is state sponsored homicide.

The Church defines a sacrament as a sign that achieves what it signifies, and in some profound sense, everything that we do on this side of the veil has the sacramental power of achieving a spiritual reality either of light and godliness, or of darkness and evil.  Our acts become habits which in turn become our characters; who we are. The slow-motion suicide of a culture which kills its children so that it can perpetuate its own fantasy of childhood is spiritually transforming. It is who we are. And now we have also officially abandoned those most in need of the most basic human covenant, supporting each other in the struggle to live.

For quite some time the outlier advocates of physician-assisted suicide have moved past the rhetorical fig leaf of unbearable pain and have spoken of the right to die. There are already some who speak of an obligation to die. These people are prophets of the anti-Christ. It is a spiritual darkness which beckons.

The Gospel reading for Friday February 6, 2015 is Mark 6:14-29. It is a breathtaking scene in which Herod has seduced Herodias, the wife of his brother, and John the Baptist has denounced the sin. Herodias wants John killed, but Herod is afraid of John because he is righteous. Then there is the feast celebrating Herod’s birthday, and the daughter of Herodias dances for Herod and his guests—and he is much pleased. Imagine the mental hell of Herodias, in the untenable position of adultress, now watching Herod, for whom she had abandoned honor, lusting after her daughter. Herod makes an oath to give the girl anything she asks, even half of his kingdom. The girl goes to her mother, who must now despise her daughter, no doubt delighting in her ascendant sexual power. Herodias tells her to demand the head of John the Baptist on a plate.

What is truly spectacular but easy to miss is how this Gospel is a retrospective. It is told as after the fact, all in support of something easily overlooked. It is about all of the lust and sordid intrigue but at an even deeper level it is about how Herod was blind to Christ because of his sin. Before the account of the murder of John the Baptist the Gospel begins:

King Herod had heard about Jesus, since by now his name was well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah”; others again, “He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have.” But when Herod heard this he said, “It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead.”

Herod was unable to recognize Christ because he had made himself God in taking the life of John the Baptist. The dead remained among him rising with miraculous powers, but it would be more true to say that Herod himself was already among the dead, inhabiting the spiritual order he had created. Herod had created his own hell, in which Christ could not be recognized and so too for us, the dead are among us, or rather we are among the dead, as we abort our children and murder the elderly, the sick and the suffering, and this is surely one of the great reasons why, like Herod, we do not recognize Christ.

(Photo credit: Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Joe Bissonnette

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Joe Bissonnette teaches religion and philosophy at Assumption College School in Brantford, Ontario where he lives with his wife and their seven children. He has written for Catholic Insight, The Human Life Review, The Interim, The Catholic Register and The Toronto Star.

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