Euthanasia: The position of the Church and the vision of the Bible

The global pharmaceuticals market was worth $934.8 billion in 2017 and will reach $1170 billion in 2021, growing at 5.8%, according to a recent pharma market research report by The Business Research Company.

It has never been clear where the difference between religious and secular opinions is at the end of life. Death is part of life, just as the French physiologist Claude Bernard (1878) stated: “Life is death”, and indeed, there is no life without death, and this awareness has represented for man a truth often too much heavy to understand.

The Holy Scriptures do not give specific indications about euthanasia (a term born only in the XVII century in the medical field that literally means “good death”, from the Greek εὐθανασία εὔ- “good” and θάνατος “death”), but give many indications regarding both the precious gift of life, and the inexorable arrival of death, the entrance door for the believer to the Divine Judgment.
The term began to have resonance only from the end of the nineteenth century, indicating a medical intervention aimed at ending the suffering of a seriously ill person. In fact today it is only thanks to the help of modern medical machinery that desperate clinical situations manage to remain “in life”, but in the past the term “good death” coined by the English philosopher Francis Bacon (in the essay “Progress of knowledge” ” Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning “, 1605) simply invited doctors not to abandon incurable patients, and to help them suffer as little as possible. Bacon attributed the etymological meaning of “good death” (painless death) to the ethical and moral purpose of the doctor, or to ensure that death, occurring in a “natural” way, was not painful.

To date, different countries have different legislatures regarding euthanasia. The House of Lords selected committee on medical ethics defines euthanasia as “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the explicit intention of ending a life, to alleviate intractable suffering”. In the Netherlands and Belgium, euthanasia is understood as “interrupting the life of a doctor at the request of a patient”, while Dutch law does not use the term “euthanasia” but includes the concept in the broader definition of “suicide assisted and termination of life upon request “.
In Italy, a few days ago, the Court considered “non-punishable those who facilitate the execution of the purpose of suicide, autonomously and freely formed of a patient kept alive by life support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology, source of physical and psychological suffering which he considers intolerable, but fully capable of making free and conscious decisions “.
“To the respect of the modalities foreseen by the legislation on informed consent, on palliative care and continuous deep sedation (articles 1 and 2 of law 219/2017) and to the verification of both the required conditions and the execution modalities by a public structure of the SSN, having heard the opinion of the territorially competent ethics committee “.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care services in the world. It has about 18,000 clinics, 16,000 retirement homes for the elderly and the needy and 5,500 hospitals, of which 65 percent are located in countries in development path. In 2010, the Pontifical Council of the Church for the pastoral care of health workers stated that the Church manages 26% of the world’s health facilities.

Arguments for and against voluntary euthanasia

In favour:

  • Free choice: considering the freedom of choice as a fundamental democratic principle every citizen should be able to express himself, as in the manifestation of his right to vote, even in the private sphere, in which the values of conscience are unquestionable
  • Quality of life: to some the pain and suffering experienced during an illness are incomprehensible and unsustainable. Even the therapy against pain, which limits physical suffering, may not be sufficient to cope with the psychic one resulting from the situation, mainly linked to the loss of one’s independence. A civil society should not impose this condition on anyone.
  • Dignity: the profound conviction of having no chance of recovering what had made life worth living and also of being destined to weigh ever more heavily and indefinitely on loved ones, making it impossible for them to lead life as before.

Against:

  • Hippocratic oath: every doctor must swear on some variant of it; the original version explicitly excludes euthanasia.
  • Moral: according to many it can be considered morally unacceptable. This moral view usually sees euthanasia as a type of murder and voluntary euthanasia as a type of suicide, the morality of which is the subject of lively debate.
  • Theological: different religions and modern religious interpretations consider both euthanasia and suicide as “sinful” acts.
  • Full awareness: euthanasia can be considered “voluntary” only if the patient is able to understand and want so that he can make the decision, or if he has an adequate understanding of the options and their consequences. In some cases, such cognitive competence may be difficult to determine, or may not exist, see in the case of serious or psychic disabilities where “voluntariness” is difficult to distinguish from instigation to suicide.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to euthanasia, considering such practices as equivalent to murder or suicide, but in any case it does not support “the aggressive treatment” at all, because “we do not want to procure death: [but] we accept not being able to prevent it. “:

euthanasia
2276 Those whose life is handicapped or weakened require special respect. People who are sick or handicapped must be supported so that they can lead an existence as normal as possible.
2277 Whatever the reasons and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the life of people who are handicapped, ill or near death. It is morally unacceptable.
Thus an action or an omission which, by itself or intentionally, causes death in order to put an end to pain, constitutes a killing that is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect of the living GOD, his CREATOR. The error of judgment, in which one may have incurred in good faith, does not change the nature of this murderous act, always to be condemned and excluded.
2278 The interruption of onerous, dangerous, extraordinary or disproportionate medical procedures with respect to the expected results can be legitimate. In this case the “therapeutic obstinacy” is renounced. We do not want to procure death: we accept that we cannot prevent it. Decisions must be taken by the patient, if he has the competence and capacity, or otherwise by those who legally have the right, always respecting the reasonable will and legitimate interests of the patient.
2279 Even if death is considered imminent, the care that is usually due to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of analgesics to alleviate the suffering of the dying person, even with the risk of shortening his days, can be morally conformed to human dignity, if death is not intended either as an end or as a means, but is only foreseen and tolerated as unavoidable. Palliative care is a privileged form of disinterested charity. For this reason they must be encouraged. “
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III, Section II, Capter II, Article V.)

The influence of the Catholic Church in health care

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care services in the world. (Agnew, John “Deus Vult: The Geopolitics of Catholic Church”. 15, 1: 39–61) It has about 18,000 clinics, 16,000 retirement homes for the elderly and the needy and 5,500 hospitals, of which 65 percent are located in countries in development path. In 2010, the Pontifical Council of the Church for the pastoral care of health workers stated that the Church manages 26% of the world’s health facilities. (Catholic hospitals comprised one quarter of the world healthcare, council reports: CNA Catholic News Agency).

The Church’s involvement in health care has very ancient origins, Jesus himself, instructed his followers to heal the sick. The early Christians were known for the care of the sick and infirm, and the Christian emphasis on practical charity has given rise to the development of systematic nurses and hospitals. The influential Benedictine rule maintains that “the care of the sick must be placed above and before any other duty, as if Christ had really served directly waiting for them”. During the Middle Ages, monasteries and convents were Europe’s key medical centers and the Church developed the first version of the welfare state. Cathedral schools have evolved into a well-integrated network of medieval universities and Catholic scientists (many of them priests) have made a series of important discoveries that have helped the development of modern science and medicine.

It is obvious that the interests of the Church in this field are very high, the concern is that less believing doctors and pharmaceutical companies can push patients to the most lasting and costly treatments in economic terms, not on the basis of biblical precepts, or theological interpretations, but only for personal and scientific interests.

What the Bible teaches

In the Old Testament the case of assisted suicide is cited, that of King Saul (2 Samuel 1, 6-10), where a soldier kills Saul under his request; but David will later issue a death sentence for that man, not for having indulged the dying man, but because that dying man was the anointed one of the LORD (Messiah) and a foreigner (amalekita) should have feared to “stretch out his hand” on a consecrato. (2Sam 1, 1-18)

The other Biblical passages concern exclusively the importance of life and respect for death, but never directly we find clear passages regarding the condemnation of euthanasia:

 

Genesis 9, 6
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of GOD He made man.

 

Ecclesiastes 8, 8
No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.

 

Hebrews 9, 27
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

 

Job 1, 21
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

 

Job 12, 10
In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?

 

Psalm 39, 4
“LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.

 

Judges 9, 53-54
But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, ‘A woman slew him.'” So the young man pierced him through, and he died.

 

1 Samuel 31, 4-5
Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me ” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him.

 

Conclusion

Usually today many men and women (especially Westerners) refuse death, trying to overcome this inconceivable event through a long and successful life. Medical research is the most powerful human resource for defeating (but often only delaying, psychologically and physically affecting) the disease and delaying death, even if it inexorably turns out to be inevitable. Not only people, but above all the system, society, in many Western countries seem to support this attitude of rejection and what becomes important is no longer to live well, but to live as long as possible.

The concern is that, as often happens, people in critical illness situations blindly rely on specialists who are not always driven by ethical moral values. The global pharmaceuticals market was worth $934.8 billion in 2017 and will reach $1170 billion in 2021, growing at 5.8%, according to a recent pharma market research report by The Business Research Company.
In the everyday life it seems more like the system wants to impose medicines on the healthy, and in desperate cases the machines, which keep biologically dead people alive, are a great source of income for the clinics and pharmaceutical companies. The Bible only requires us to respect both life and death, as they come from GOD, but human intervention has already compromised the Divine Plan if a man or a woman, who should already be dead, remain alive only thanks to the pharmacological treatments and to the aid of the machines 24 hours on 24 and 7 days on 7. The believers must face with courage and confidence the inevitability of the death, deadline of the life, because even if this represents a great challenge for the man, for those who have done good in life, they truly understand that after the Judgment the eternal Peace will finally arrive, the only true aspiration and joy for the just.

 

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