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Thursday, July 27, 2006

So, die already.

Culture of death indeed. Catholic Exchange picks up Pamela Winnick's column about her experience with medical staff encouraging her family to end her father's life. He wasn't dying -- in fact, he was getting better, he wasn't in a persistent vegetative state, and no one asked for the medical staffs' opinion. Yet one after another, they just kept suggesting it.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he might prefer to be euthanized when he's maybe 75, when he feels that he would be too old to be of use. Why? He mentions how his existence would simply waste precious resources. Sounds fair, feels foul. After a short prayer, I plunged in.

There's something dreadfully wrong when he puts that decision on top of these two premises: that it's alright to take your own life for some greater good and that his life is his own. The first premise is plain wrong. What's a few hundred thousand dollars compared to one man's life? Money can be made with a bit of hard work (think superannuation and health insurance here) whereas a life once lost is .. gone. He's not talking about being terminally ill --I can understand DNR (do not resuscitate) decisions. Or a decision to reject chemotherapy if it will only marginally prolong life while reducing the quality of life. No, this says something about how the aged are viewed. It is the cold calculation of one who asks the aged: "Why should I keep you alive?" The second premise is disturbing for someone who believes in God. Is our life our own? No. We had nothing to do with our own creation, so why should we believe that our own death is exclusively ours to orchestrate? We may choose how we live our life, and that includes choosing to put our lives at risk at the service of others. How is this different from suicide or euthanasia? Simply put: there is no charity in the latter. There is no "good" in euthanasia because it does not benefit anyone. Also, if one were to wrest control over one's life so completely even in death, what role is there for God in the afterlife? I look at life and salvation as the story of a child who eventually realizes -- not without some anxiety -- that, for his father to give him a new and even better toy, he must first surrender the ones that he has been playing with. This life is not the pinnacle of our existence, and we won't get there if we don't let him get us there. Arrogating to ourselves the time of our death is telling God that we don't want him in our lives. If He has no role in our death, then perhaps He can have no role in our afterlife.

There's also another matter that had to be brought up. Saying that some principle is qualified by one's own free will does not make that principle correct. It just makes it relevant -- to whomever willed it freely. There are principles behind the decisions we make, even when we do not articulate those principles. For example, my friend believes in ending his life when he reaches old age for the sake of cutting costs. In doing so, he is agreeing that this principle is acceptable in some cases, i.e.,when it is his own decision. The problem with this thinking is that other people would find their own causes to support the same premise, ones that are relevant to them. Fascist dictators might believe that euthanizing the elderly, the infirm or the weak serves the greater good of the state. Fascist activists might believe the same thing for the unborn -- delivering too many of them depletes precious resources. You never know what else will one day present itself as just cause. Hey, if it works for you, right? It sure worked for those doctors who urged Pamela's family, one after another, day after day, to end their father's life. It works for them so, they believe, it should work for others too. After all, it's for the greater good. How long will it be before they believe that it is selfish for the elderly and their families to resist euthanasia and foil the greater good?

Relativism: when relevance replaces objective truth. But that's not how it should be. What's relevant to some is not so to others, and may, in fact, become irrelevant to the same person in the future. Objective truths are more powerful than relevance because relevance is too relative to be reliable.

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