Over at Catholic Lane, Mark Pickup writes about the The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s recent statement against euthanasia. In it, he explains how euthanasia denies people of the “good time” of the “last phase of living” during which a person often reconciles with God and others.
Mark’s article reminds me of something I read in Dr. Joseph M. Mauceri’s book Ethics and Human Life and posted here a few years ago. In the chapter on Euthanasia, Dr. Mauceri explains, drawing from his own 30 year experience with dying patients, how in many ways death, when left to its natural course, is often a healing process (both for the patients and their loved ones) that prepares the individual to depart from this life:
The final point regarding euthanasia is that it is an immoral intrusion into spiritual time. Many dying patients have a profound experience of God, peace and reconciliation hours, days or even weeks before they die. These experiences are neither drug induced nor psychotic fugue states. They are moments of intense awareness; in fact, their very intensity often interrupts otherwise confused or lethargic states. Unlike the well popularized “near death” experiences of those who did not leave us, these patients leave with deep peace, and they bequeath a great consolation to their loved ones. In every case with which I am familiar, euthanasia would have prevented the experience by premature killing of the patient. If, you might say, that is of no consequence since they are dead in any case, the loss of these consolations would be a grievous loss for those of us who wait!…
My experience with many of the dying over nearly 30 years has left two powerful impressions. The first is that most people die in peace. They have passed through suffering, fear and doubt, but peace finally comes at the end. The other impression is that many whose faith was lost “come back,” as it were. I can only believe this to be the generous gift of faith and reconciliation that God wishes to give each one of us at the hour of our death. Illness, especially terminal illness, is always the occasion for a new journey and a new spirit. Some time may pass in anger and confusion about its meaning, but gradually lives begin to change. It is, as many have said, an opportunity given through suffering and grief to begin one’s own ascent to God.
We must not yield to the popular sentiments here regarding death. We must move toward death with the same confidence and faith in God’s love as we should the struggle and demands in our daily lives. We cannot really plan our deaths, despite all of the legal and ethical directives we might have in place anymore than we could live our lives without the unexpected crashing down on us. Life is what happens while we are making other plans, and death itself is always the unknown final drama. This is the reason why euthanasia is a lie. While it places us “psychologically” in control, it also requires of us what control always presupposes, a decision. If we have learned anything in our lifetime about us, about God, it is that we are not in control, and the wise decision is to repose in God’s care. I, for one, hardly think that the time near death is the time to lapse. (pp. 70 & 80)
Believe it or not, I’ve had faithful Catholics tell me that they can understand how hastening inevitable death would be preferable as it is incredibly painful to watch a loved one deteriorate and be in extreme physical pain. They’ve even said that they would want to be put out of their misery themselves to spare their loved ones the heartache of having to watch them suffer terribly.
Obviously, no one wants to see their loved one in pain, but that doesn’t change the fact that, like abortion, euthanasia is an arrogant intrusion into the natural order of human life.
Notice, Mark said dying can be “good” time, not fun time. It may not always be enjoyable, but God is always generous with the time He gives us. Because death is frequently met with much fear and anxiety, God gives us the experience of the dying process as preparation for this fantastic event. A time to be purified through suffering and practice total trust in His justice, mercy and love.
Of course not all deaths occur in this way. In our fallen world accidents happen and people die instantly, but that doesn’t mean that we have the right to intentionally end someone else’s life (or our own) and deny them the “good”, healing time that dying can be.