The Casualties of War

Frequently over the past 30 years, thanks to the wisdom of Pope John Paul II, we have examined the root causes of the culture of death. In Evangelium Vitae, he explained it quite clearly:

12. In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of “conspiracy against life” is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States.

Note that Pope John Paul II wisely described the evolving nature of this deadly attitude as a “conspiracy against life,” which is precisely what we face today, not only in the United States but worldwide. You might call it a war of words designed to effectively dismiss people from their lives due to high costs, efficiency or simple selfishness. And the casualties in this war are everywhere though not acknowledged as such.

This fact became blatant enough to knock your eye out when Michael Cook recently wrote about what is going on overseas in his opinion piece, “There will be casualties.” The title came from a comment made by euthanasia proponent Philip Nitschke who is Jack Kevorkian’s twin brother when it comes to addressing how people should die, why they should die and by what means. When Nitschke discussed a suicide drug for the elderly and terminally ill called Nembutal and addressed the use of it instead by many younger people who were depressed, he quipped, “There will be some casualties.”

But the discussion did not move from there to a detailed outline of how to protect these unwitting victims from using the drug to commit suicide. Oh, no! And this is why Cook, in his wisdom, and having done his homework, opined, “It is becoming increasingly clear that euthanasia advocacy is an illness characterized by an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions, an inability to empathize with normal people, and a morbid desire to help others die. Like mad cow disease, it lies dormant for years. Its victims look normal, but eventually the spongy degeneration of the brain becomes evident.”

Indeed, I would have to agree. For example, British television host Ray Gosling recently admitted on national television during a documentary he had filmed that he had killed his gay lover twenty years earlier. Many of his friends had apparently known of it for years but did not feel it needed to be reported since, from their perspective, what Gosling did was simply assist his lover in committing suicide. Even though he never expected to be arrested after his televised confession, he was and now only time will tell what will happen to him.

Then there’s the story of Zoe FitzGerald Carter, whose experiences with a mother who wanted to commit suicide on her own terms have been publicized by Oprah and will soon become a book. Zoe’s mother had suffered with Parkinson’s disease since the age of 50. By the age of 75, she knew that she wanted to die. What is interesting about this very sad case of suicide is that Zoe remained with her mother and, even during a doctor’s visit close to the end of her mother’s life, could not bring herself to answer the doctor correctly when asked, “Do you think your mother is depressed?” She writes,

I wanted to say “Yes, of course she’s depressed. Why else would she be talking to you about ending her life?” But I simply said, “No, I guess not. I would say my mother’s unhappiness is pretty reasonable given her situation.”

“Okay.” Dr. Harmon placed both his hands on his knees with a brisk slap, as if getting ready to rise. “You’ve come to get a prescription for Seconal. Am I right?”

The story turns out the way you might expect, with Zoe’s mother dying of starvation. But what is troublesome about this case, much like the Gosling case, is the media fascination with this so-called right to die by whatever means a patient might choose. It is as if there is something closely resembling romanticism with the idea of killing someone you love or being a witness to their effort to die by their own hand.

Which brings me to the Netherlands. “Under current Dutch law, euthanasia is only legal in cases of ‘hopeless and unbearable’ suffering, which in practice means it is limited to those suffering from serious medical conditions and in considerable pain. Only doctors are allowed to assist in euthanasia. Helping somebody commit suicide who does not meet the qualifications stipulated in the current euthanasia law is illegal. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2001 and is one of the few countries in the world to have done so.”

But now there’s a group called “Out of Free Will” that wants to legalize assisted suicide for “all Dutch people over 70.” As one bioethics news reporting agency puts it:

“Wanted: nurse or spiritual caretaker in possession of a Completed Life Certificate to assist suicides.” If a group of elderly grandees in the Netherlands calling itself “Out of Free Will” succeeds with its plan for decriminalizing assisted suicide, job advertisements like this will be appearing in the newspapers.

They have already begun collecting signatures to lobby for a change in legislation.

Again we see the emerging pattern of publicity carefully crafted to create the idea that when life becomes difficult, those who are experiencing problems have every “right” to do what they wish to do, even if it requires using the assistance of another person to take the life that has allegedly become too much to bear. And since the idea of assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia have become so popular at this time and in so many different nations, it begs the question: Has the euthanasia end of the culture of death finally arrived at a place where their philosophy is mainstream and their tactics are considered laudable?

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the discussion about caring for seriously ill patients has become center stage during debates over health care reform in America. Even though physician-assisted suicide and other deadly acts have not become focal points during Congressional debates, it should be noted that cost cutting and triage are very much a part of the debates. One insightful Catholic priest, Father Joseph Redfern of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Altoona, Wisconsin, made it clear in a homily he delivered just last month. There are many who question how federally mandated end-of-life documents could be used and whether or not they might be used to facilitate physician-assisted suicide or other forms of euthanasia if the federal government took over health care in America.

Some will suggest this idea is farfetched. Others like yours truly are not so sure. I fully agree with Michael Cook who ended his excellent commentary with these words:

What is happening here? How can intelligent, well-educated people be so obtuse about the dangers of legalizing the killing of innocent, infirm human beings? Perhaps the conviction that some killing is permissible is so morally corrupting that it infects the intellect and distorts reality. And arguing with them is futile. As Chesterton wrote:

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage