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Catholic teaching on euthanasia

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placeholder November 21, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Catholic teaching on euthanasia

With Gov. Brown signing the End of Life Option Act in October 2015, and the law in effect since June 9, it seems appropriate to reflect on this vital issue.

Euthanasia is the act of causing death painlessly to end suffering.

Catholic teaching is that taking one's life is a serious sin; it is a grave injustice to God, you, your family and friends.

God is the creator of all life and we cannot deny His authority over life and death, except in self-defense and in defense of others. But only God can judge if someone who commits suicide is in a state of mortal sin.

Were they in a state of mind to acknowledge that it is a grievous offense against God? Did they think about it and decide to do it anyway, even if it meant separation from God for all eternity?

Suicidal thoughts and attempts are usually triggered by real setbacks, disappointments and serious illnesses. Often the person is depressed and unable to appreciate positive options.

These people need to be freed from their thoughts of hurting themselves through compassionate support, counseling and even medications.

Compassion means to suffer with another person. It is vital to maintain solidarity while alleviating suffering because the worse suffering is not physical pain but isolation and hopelessness.

The "right to die" is based on the idea that life is a thing that we possess and may discard. We do not have a claim on death but rather that death has a claim on us because of sin. Ending one's life is a supreme contradiction of freedom, a choice that eliminates all other choices.

Respect for life means we protect life from the moment of conception until natural death. It should be noted that artificial contraceptives not only attack the healthy reproductive organs but as in the case of the birth control pill, morning after pill and IUD, may act as an abortion agent.

The birth control pill is also a class1 carcinogen for breast, uterine and liver cancers. Artificial contraceptives that damage normal organs and increase the risk for cancers should not be considered part of the health care mandate.

Respect life does not demand that we attempt to prolong life by using medical treatments that are unduly burdensome, nor does it mean that we should deprive suffering patients of pain medications out of a misplaced, exaggerated fear that analgesics might have side effects of shortening their lives.

Respect for life must encompass the administration of food and water by natural or artificial means to a patient in a "vegetative state" except when nutrients cannot be assimilated by the body. We may not cause death by deliberate starvation and dehydration as in the case of Terri Schiavo.

A man or a woman even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of their highest functions is and always will be a person and will never become a vegetable or a beast of burden.

For patients not in a "vegetative state," effective palliative care may enhance the length and quality of life to allow patients time to devote their attention to any unfinished business of their lives, to make peace with God, with loved ones and with themselves.

As Catholics we believe that suffering need not be meaningless. Mental and physical suffering accepted in love can bring us in union with Christ's passion and death on the cross for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of others.

Some demons cannot be driven out by prayer alone but require fasting and offering up our daily cross. What if Jesus took the easy way out by suicide with a painless death? Jesus would not have suffered and died for our sins and we would not have the opportunity for eternal joy in heaven. As we age, we may lose heart, but if we do not strive for justice in this life, we will not see God, Who is perfect justice.

(Dr. Thomas Lenz of Clayton is an East Bay emergency room doctor. This was his presentation to a noontime forum, Planning for Medical Decisions, Nov. 5, hosted by the St. Agnes Parish, Concord, Respect Life Committee. Joining Dr. Lenz were life advocate Joni Durling and Mary Davenport, MD.)


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