The horrifying news that Belgium has, in principle at least, aligned itself with a handful of nations or states that allow for “physician-assisted suicide” for children of all ages (!) signals that civilization, as we have known it, is unquestionably approaching its dissolution. In some ways it is comparable to abortion or the destruction of human embryos. Yet it is already “out there” in various pieces of legislation. The Netherlands was apparently the first, in 2002, although children at least 12 years old and terminally ill children below 16 years reportedly need parental consent (!).
Germany and Austria obviously remember the Nazi death camps of World War II; six of them “specialized” in euthanasia during the 1940s. Captives who were declared “unworthy of life,” including children (as well as infants needing special care), were terminated. Today in Germany, efforts to halt movements toward “active” euthanasia are reportedly growing stronger. According to a legislator formally involved in legal attempts to disallow euthanasia in general, “a society which legalizes the killing of its own children has declared bankruptcy and is on the downward spiral.”
A rather thorough nation-by-nation report on this whole issue appears in the 22 February London Tablet. Sadly to relate, three States here in America can be added to the list permitting euthanasia, albeit not specifically oriented to youths: Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Moreover, two additional States, Montana and New Mexico, have apparently moved in the same direction with court decisions leaving the door open, as it were, to antilife advocates.
One sentence in the London Tablet’s nation-by-nation story seems especially enigmatic – and highly ignorant – to me. Referring to Oregon, Montana and New Mexico, it reads: “All three States are among the least churched in the country.” The explanation offered for these three States’ nonchalance about human life is, therefore, a religionless climate. Reverence for human life from conception to natural death is of course a solid tenet of religious commitment and practice; God alone gives life and God alone reserves its withdrawal to himself.
Whether Vermont, say, is unchurched, and to what degree, hardly provides an excuse for those who champion so-called “mercy killing.”
Revelation, the ultimate source of religious knowledge, informs us unambiguously that to take directly any innocent human life is seriously contraindicated by God, not excluding one’s own life. Shakespeare’s summary of Catholic belief is unforgettable, as expressed within Hamlet’s immortal soliloquy: “O that the Everlasting had not fix’d/ His canon ’gainst self-slaughter.” (1.2.131)
Reason alone arrives at this same conclusion; whether States are churched or unchurched, faith cannot contradict reason; nor reason, faith. Our God, who reveals his will to humankind, is from all eternity the Logos, the Word from whom all Wisdom emanates.
This means, of course, that God cannot contradict himself. Hence, reason can lead even the “unchurched” to ultimate Truth; in this case, the immorality of suicide, since only God, who authors life, has the right to withdraw it.
This lesson – that reason leads us to know that suicide is immoral – was promulgated by one of the three finest minds of ancient Athens, the philosopher Socrates, who was executed on false charges in 399 B.C. Indeed, the death of Socrates was related for posterity in the famed classic, the Phaedo, one of the great Dialogues of Plato, who studied under Socrates.
Socrates, according to Plato, had been unjustly condemned to death by “drinking the hemlock.” When a colleague of Socrates suggested that he escape the executioner’s sentence by resorting to suicide, the Philosopher replied: “…it is not unreasonable to hold that no man has a right to take his own life, but … must wait until God sends some necessity upon him, as has now been sent upon me…”
“I am not so much grieved over death. I am confident that the dead have some kind of existence … an existence that is far better for the good than for the wicked.”
Philosopher Ralph McInerny, arguably the finest mind that Notre Dame University ever acquired, concluded in a lecture he gave here in 1991 (I was fortunate to have been there):
“Euthanasia, since it cannot coherently be justified as for the good of the one killed, is justified by appeal to some political aim assumed to be of unquestionable overriding importance. But at best this is a parody of a moral argument. Absent some such supposedly overriding good, arguments for euthanasia are simply incoherent.
“… It is Mother Teresa and her sisters who attend men dying of AIDS, exhibiting, by what they do, their conviction of their worth and dignity…. It seems to me, it is those who recognize the limits of human actions who will continue the advance of medicine, not those who see euthanasia as a form of healing.”
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.