Value of suffering

Faith Focus for the Week
How do I respond to suffering?

“The value of suffering Euthanasia supporters do not consider logical consequences — or suffering’s redemptive nature” by Msgr. Charles Pope OSV Newsweekly

Q. I have a question about physician-assisted suicide (euthanasia). Why does the Church teach it is wrong to allow a person to die when they are suffering badly? I think we appear as cruel by insisting that people suffer so. How do you answer this? — Name withheld, Washington, D.C.

Answer: Euthanasia is not the same as allowing a person to die. Euthanasia is the direct and active killing of a person, usually with drugs or some other manner such as starving a person to death by removing a feeding tube.

Allowing a person to die is the sometimes justified decision to stop using machines and other extensive medical interventions that keep a person alive. When the dying process is clearly underway, we are not obliged to make extensive and burdensome medical interventions. We are obliged to provide the dying with comfort and pain relief, and to supply food and water, even if administered by a tube. 

 You are correct in noting that suffering and its meaning is ultimately a key focus in the matter of euthanasia. And for the Church, two hurdles exist regarding suffering in order to make the case against euthanasia. 

The first hurdle is that in an increasingly post-Christian, secular world, suffering has no positive meaning at all. St. Paul wrote that the cross was an absurdity to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). Yet, Christ commanded us to carry our cross and set this at the heart of true discipleship. For a catechized Christian, the cross of suffering has rich meaning. It teaches us humility, brings us wisdom, purifies us, develops gifts in us and brings the promise of glory.

But to a secular, often godless culture, much of this is absurdity. Suffering (especially without obvious rewards near at hand) is all but meaningless and cruel. The Church, thus, faces the hurdle of reproposing the cross to a resistant world. 

The second hurdle is the modern tendency to base many arguments in feelings and emotional notions of happiness. Doing what is right is not always easy. But in the modern world, if a truth or moral principle makes someone sad, or angry, or unhappy, the presumption too often is that what is proposed is therefore bad or wrong. 

With these hurdles in mind, the most fruitful argument seems to center on warning of the dangerous consequences of legalizing euthanasia. The “right to die” soon becomes the duty to die. And thus the elderly, the handicapped and the chronically ill become far more pressured to end it all. Insurance coverage and the priorities of the medical field are likely to shift away from care to “exit” strategies. Some data on this is already available from countries in Europe that show this is not simple fear-mongering. 

Some invoke privacy and the right to do with their own life as they please. But private decisions like physician-assisted suicide have public consequences. Casting aside the value or meaning of one life ultimately calls all of our lives into question. Beware, for the call to compassion is too often a wolf disguised as a sheep.

This article comes to you from Our Sunday Visitor courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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