Sometime within the next coming years, I will have a choice, live in pain until the bitter end or legitimately choose to withhold treatment and end life. The decision is not something I’ve taken lightly. Thus, I was very interested in a story arising from the Belgian government. In essence, the Belgian government poses an interesting question, “Can a terminally ill children choose the right to die?”
Obviously these laws raise a number of ethical, moral, and legal dilemmas, including is it right for a parent to propose the legal killing of their child in any circumstances? And, as children don’t have the same reasoning skills as adults, are they equipped to make a terminal decision about their lives that will significantly impact so many others?
In the United States, a New Mexico judge has ruled that terminally ill patients have the right to “aid in dying” under the state constitution. “Such deaths are not considered ‘suicide’ under New Mexico’s assisted suicide statute,” ruled Judge Nan G. Nash. Further stating, “This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.”
In opposing the ruling, New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops objected, citing both “religious and moral grounds.” Their argument mirrors that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “A society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms,” the bishops said. “Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal disease.”
In Belgium, Rik Torfs, a former parliamentarian and current rector of Catholic University of Leuven noted “The Church has the opinion that life is a gift from God and that we don’t have the right to throw away.” If I summarize most clergy correctly, life is a gift from God and we have no right to throw it way.
Both statements were intriguing. In truth, I will sidestep the argument for or against an individual’s right to physician-assisted suicide. More so, should we consider life a gift from God? And if so, is there really no personal right to throw it away? I tend to argue that that’s exactly what most modern societies do … they throw the gift of life away.
As a whole, in reviewing Christ’s life, there is great focus on His ministry. Thus, many of the crowds to whom he preached received healing, both mental and physical. And outside of Himself, only Lazarus was raised from the dead. Today, many Catholic ministries focus a tremendous amount of effort fighting for personhood rights. We tend not to deliver critical and necessary services for the poor and disadvantaged during their life.
There are timeless examples where societies have continually averted their eyes from the sacredness of life. Nations across the world have shown little value for life. Here in the United States, we protest against abortion, Obamacare, reproduction rights and gay rights; but we’re completely fine with the notion that 4,000 children run away or are kicked out of their homes daily. Thus, these societal orphans are marginalized and live in negligible interest. We never wonder about the child who’s fallen to street predators, advertised on Backpage.com and sold for an hour at a time. And certainly, we give little attention to the men paying for them.
The government fails on so many levels. We shoot unarmed children and claim self-defense. Gun control advocates allow the shooting of children in malls and schools while successfully claiming plausible deniability. We allow elected representatives to discontinue food stamps to the needy, welfare to the single mother, expansion of medical coverage while cutting deals under the table for lobbyist cash to fuel overly-price electoral offices.
Worldwide we ignore wholesale genocide, human rights violations and hunger. We spy on friends, families and allies alike. We kill by drone, but ignore painfully hard decisions including global climate and income equality. We call the poor lazy.
The innate dignity of human beings does not stem from our relationship to an all-mighty God or our endowment with an immortal soul. It stems, rather, from the exalted place we human beings place upon it. What makes human life so special is that human beings have a capacity for moral choice that is not shared by other types of beings. We have the ability to help, love or destroy. Though subject to limiting conditions, we always possess an innate power allowing us to change ourselves and the world.
From my perspective, one can positively argue for or against the personal right to die in dignity. However, should that argument be made to me, ensure you understand the quality of life doesn’t begin and end when children spurt from the womb.
Dignity is life-long.