To what extent...

edited December 1969 in Random Issues
As a lot of you already know, I did wrote a report on Euthanasia from a Christian Perspective for my Ethics class. My prof broght something very important to my attention: the Case of Robert Latimer.

For those of you who don't know his story, he's a man who watched his 12-year old daughter choke on carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust of his truck. But he didn't do that because he was crazy or psychotic... he did it out of love. His daughter was born with cerebral palsy and at 12 years old she functioned as a 3 month old baby. Throughout her life, she had numerous surgeries and was in such immense pain. The only analgesic drug that would not make her situation worse was Tylenol, which considering the intensity of pain, was not very effective. Her father couldn't bear see his daughter like this any longer so he ended her life. More info:

I completely understand that the Church is against the taking of a life no matter what, but this story makes me think that there should be some cases where exceptions should be made.  Reading the longer version of this story actually made me cry because that little girl had to suffer so much at such a young age and she didn't even get to experience a pain-free life!

I know that some might argue the "slippery slope", that once we start making exceptions, more and more exceptions will be made but what about such extreme cases? Surely no human will have more mercy than God but I just don't understand it!

Anyone have any thoughts?


  • :o
    WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?! Watched her daughter DIE?? Jeez thelma and louise... sure it may be beneficial to the dad, but what about the daughter? Living is God's will... we all have to suffer in this life, we all carry a cross, just because one is too great, doesn't mean we go turn around and sin and end life.
  • euthanasia, like abortion, is a very controversial topic.  our church states for example that abortion is wrong, unless the mothers life is at stake.  however, i personally know of certain cases where thats not always the case, such as this one: a mother's fetus was aborted [under the guidance of a priest] b/c she slept w/ a muslim man. 

    i personally don't view euthanasia as the 'worst' thing in the world.  don't get me wrong, im not saying its fine to do it, nor am i promoting it; i'm just saying we are all quick to attack it b/c its a mortal sin, and we're taking someones life, but we always seem to forget that MOST of the time it's done out of love for the person, and the inability to witness someone you love in pain.  i remember before my grandmother died, my whole family was praying for her to pass on, b/c she was in so much pain.  does that make us sinners for wishing that?
  • Sodr, I can understand your shock with news that Mr. Latimer killed his daughter but I don't understand how this can be a benefit to him. He loved his daughter and wanted to ease her pain and suffering for her, not for him. Yes, living is God's will but what if the cross you had to bear became unbearable (heaven forbid). Keep in mind that this girl couldn't walk, talk, move, laugh, or do anything by herself. Yes God gives each according to what he/ she can bear but this is what confuses me...

    GregorytheSinner, I'm sorry your grandma had to go through such a difficult situation before her death and I honestly don't think that you praying for her to die is anything bad. We always wish the best for those we love even if it means hurting ourselfs. But I do agree with you that there should be some exceptions made... under extreme circumstances of course.
  • +no!...there shouldnt be ANY exception made to sin..these days people think they can sin and make an excuse..or make the commandments more towards their lifestyle..God put commandments to be followed. its a command not a choice..we all have a free will and thats why God said there's a way of life and a way of death...if u choose life, follow the commandments. if u love God, follow the commandments..society these days is just so lenient towards anything and getting lazier and lazier..n u cant get lazy with the Word of God..we being Christians should be a light that this world is in great need of...God gave us the PRIVLEDGE and opportunity to be a light and we should grasp onto that and shine!! =).....we just need to do things that agree with the Word of God and God will do the rest..God will give strength, ease the pain, give us peace or be tested for the great heavenly rewards and hear on the last day-"Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."(Matt 25:23)

    marmoura-u said that it confuses u when God gives each according to what he/she can bear..and that man couldnt bear it.. its just sometimes we pile on too much unnecessary responsibilties, give excuses, underestimate ourselves and circumstances, and give up..

    Whoever lays his worries in all things before God, lays a foundation for all his works. (St. John Saba, The Spiritual Elder)
  • There are many difficult choices to be made. Let us be grateful we do not often have to make them. Often we can only do the best we can, and this does not diminish the goal of excellence at all.

    We do know that not all killing is murder, and that the Church has often supported both the death penalty and war. This does not mean that taking of life in such circumstances has been considered trivial, far from it, but we cannot say that the Church has always been absolutely against the taking of life in any and all circumstances.

    If Egypt, or the US, or Canada were being invaded by a brutal force which would enslave, rape and mutilate all those it captured would it be a good thing, or a bad thing, or a difficult thing to defend those women and children who were in the path of such violence? The Church has usually said that it is a difficult thing, but sometimes necessary.

    We also know that on the battlefield there have often been times in the past when a badly wounded soldier would be quickly killed by a comrade rather than be left to the torture of the enemy. Is this good, or bad, or difficult? Sometimes we are called to make difficult decisions and have to be willing to bear the consequences.

    In regard to euthanasia the situation is surely complicated because we are not dealing with what happens on a battlefield, but we are asking what our social policy should be. This will not affect just one dying soldier, but will have consequences for millions of sick and elderly people. My concern with such a policy is that it will be used to force older and sick people to choose euthanasia so that they are 'not a burden' on their families and others. A government minister in the UK has publically said that old people should consider the burden they are on their families and on the state, and clearly if a percentage of elderly people could be bullied into taking their lives then this would be a good thing as far as the state budgets were concerned, though it would be as awful a moral depravity as the rate of abortion in the UK.

    This is why I believe the Church is both accepting of difficult decisions and also aware that it must oppose social policies which would legalise a culture of death. Life is not an absolute. We should not imagine that the preservation of human life at all costs and with all consequences is always the best option. We are not atheists, we do not believe that this is th eonly life we have, or even the best life we will have. Doctors often have to choose to resuscitate or not, and sometimes it is not the right choice. Sometimes they preserve what was ready to pass away.

    But this is very different to making it a normal possibility for a nurse to bring an elderly person their breakfast and a slip of paper saying 'Are you ready to stop being a burden on everyone'.

    The case of particular individuals is especially difficult, but such cases should not be allowed to create general policy. The creation of a positive option for euthansia would lead rapidly to the early deaths of tens and hundreds of thousands of elderly and sick people. Euthanasia has become a political issue, with lobbyists, not least those organisations which would stand to benefit from it being legal.

    It is not legal for a soldier to put his comrade out of his misery, but it is understood that in the past it might happen, especially when there was not the medical care we now have. But the Armed Forces have never legislated for such a case. There are not a set of rules which state when you should shoot your comrade. It is not legal for a doctor to speed the death of a patient, but it is understood that it might happen. It would be dangerous were such a practice to be formalised, legalised and made anything other than a very difficult decision.

    The proper response to euthanasia is surely to reject and oppose it as a social policy, but to be understanding of those in particular difficult circumstances. I remember the case a week or so ago of a man in a 'persistent vegatative state'. His family had received permission for him to be allowed to die, and just a few days after they received permission he awoke from the coma and described that he had been conscious throughout. This warns us that we should not always judge the state of another, and that Doctors can also make serious mistakes and should not be trusted absolutely and soley to make the right ones when it comes to moral matters. A few days more and this conscious man would have been killed.

    This does not mean that no-one should be allowed to die, nor that everyone should always be kept alive at all costs. But it does suggest that the matter is complex and it is better not to legislate as if it were simple. There is also a great difference between the case of someone in apparently excruciating pain - perhaps we need to quickly develop much better methods of pain management - and someone who is elderly and a little awkward and whose family have had enough of incontinence and the onset of dementia. A few months ago a young man was euthanased because he was afraid of the end condition of an illness he had, but which had barely affected him. That did not seem appropriate under any circumstances. He was essentially being allowed to think that unless he was completely healthy his life was not worth living - but this is the end to which euthanasia policy tends. It starts with difficult cases and sweeps us all those who are depressed, chronically ill, elderly or just feel excluded.

    Father Peter 
  • [quote author=Marmoura99 link=topic=8577.msg108392#msg108392 date=1260763130]
    Sodr, I can understand your shock with news that Mr. Latimer killed his daughter but I don't understand how this can be a benefit to him.

    He didn't kill his daughter by mistake... by doing this he obviously thought that it would make the situation a little better (even though overall, it's still bad).
  • For this particular case,

    The father loved his daughter and I cannot understand being a parent. yet, there
    should be hope for this life as well as the next; the article said the daughter showed
    response to affection; she smiled, and when God gives you as much as you can handle,
    then doesn't He also do that for your children? The father assumed this pain so terrible, but
    what about his daughter?

    I don't know. I just think, no matter what, people should not tamper with passing away; in this case too...
    Anyone else?

  • one of my young nephews is so paralysed he can only smile or cry. he doesn't communicate otherwise. so you can never be sure if he realises you are feeding him, hugging him etc. but sometimes you can see on his face such joy that only God can give, and sometimes he laughs for no reason when he is alone.
    sure it is a lot of work for his parents, but they would never think it right to kill him (letting him die if he needs intensive care in hospital is different) because God is with him and has some kind of relationship with him that we can't understand.
    i only know that i only saw such joy before on the faces of priests during Holy Communion or Christians who are suffering fro their faith. I have no doubt my nephew has a relationship with God and other disabled people can have this too.
  • if i was involved in an accident or got an unbearable terminal illness i am so sorry god but i'm going to demand euthanasia. but if it concerns someone else then they need to decide for themselves..not other family members decide for them!
  • Thank you Father Peter for explaining this to me! Just to clarify, does this mean that the church makes some exceptions in extreme cases?

    I'd also like to thank all those who replied. I know for myself, if I was in pain then I would tough it out and hold on to my faith but I don't know if I can watch a child be in so much suffering...
  • I guess there are always exceptions because the Church deals with realities and intents, and not as though it was a team of Lawyers.

    But your comments throw up some interesting aspects of the issue.

    There are nurses and medical staff who spend all of their time having to work with children in pain and distress. My own wife works in a Neonatal ICU. They have to steel themselves so that they do not concentrate on their own feelings and emotions, but on the needs of those children and infants they are caring for.

    So I wonder if part of the impetus towards a social acceptance of euthanasia is what is a rather selfish one of not wanting to witness suffering. (I am not saying that some people mean to be selfish, but caring for the very ill can be very draining on a family).

    Then there is also the argument that such and such a person has a very poor quality of life. But this seems to me to be rather selfish as well. It is assuming that we can be the arbitors of the value of life. Or that there is some average or minimum activity which defines a person as human. I have been reading more and more about the lives of the saints and fathers and Christians of the past, and it seems to me that many or even most seem to have spent much of their lives facing disappointment, frustration, suffering and persecution - yet they did not allow this to destroy their faith, or their relationship with God, which defined for them the quality of their lives. We should be careful not ever to consider that a person who cannot move is not fully human, nor even a person who cannot properly think. Our humanity is not defined by what we do but by who we are, who God has made us. And even if we do nothing - as far as the world is concerned - we are still entirely human.

    So it seems very wrong to me to ever allow the argument that because a child is not able to do all that some other child can do he or she should be killed. That argument can easily be extended to those with dementia, then to the paraplegic, indeed once we measure humanity by what we can do then all of us who are not superman or superwoman become liable to such a 'good death' because we are not fully human.

    But this is different to keeping people alive at all costs. There are tiny babies in the NICU who should perhaps not have been constantly resuscitated. This is not the same as choosing to end a life because of the circumstances in which it is lived. Someone who is at the end of their life might not wish to be constantly resuscitated. We are not bound to an absolute avoidance of death - it should hold no fear for us. But we should be sure that we are not imposing death on others, even unwittingly, because we wish to put an end to our own suffering and the burden that chronic illness can be to a family.

    Father Peter
  • Thank you so much Father Peter! I really liked the way you explained this and it certainly does clarify so much to me.

    One more question: does the Church differentiate between termination of treatment, refusing treatment and active euthanasia, or are they all considered to be the same?
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