Academy of Catholic Traditional Biomedical Ethics
Euthanasia is the intentional killing of a person, for compassionate motives, whether the killing is by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by failing to perform an action necessary to maintain life. For euthanasia to occur, there must be an intention to kill.
Meanings of Terms
The word Euthanasia comes from the Greek language: “eu” means good and “thanatos” means death. The meaning of the word has evolved from “good death”. It now refers to the act of ending another person’s life, at their request, in order to minimize suffering.
It comes in two main forms:
Passive Euthanasia: Hastening the death of a person by removing life support equipment (e.g. a respirator), or stopping medical procedures, medications etc., or stopping food and water and allowing the person to dehydrate or starve to death. These procedures are performed on terminally ill, suffering persons so that natural death will occur sooner. It is also done on persons in a Persistent Vegetative State - individuals with massive brain damage who are in a coma from which they will not recover.
Active Euthanasia: Causing the death of a person through a direct action.The term ‘Assisted Suicide’ is vaguely related to Euthanasia. It usually refers to a situation in which information and/or the means of committing suicide (e.g. drugs, carbon monoxide gas) are given to a person so that they can easily terminate their own life without further assistance. The term “voluntary passive euthanasia” (VPE) is becoming commonly used. One writer suggests the use of the verb “to kevork”. This is derived from the named of Dr. Kevorkian, a Michigan doctor who has promoted VPE and assisted at the deaths of dozens of patients.
Less commonly discussed is involuntary euthanasia. This concerns the killing of persons who cannot express their wishes, because of immaturity (such as a newborn infant), mental retardation or coma. Here, it is decided by others that that person would be better off dead.
In October of 1939 amid the turmoil of the outbreak of war, Hitler ordered widespread “mercy killing” of the sick and disabled. The Code named “Aktion T 4,” the Nazi euthanasia program to eliminate “life unworthy of life”, at first focused on newborns and very young children. Midwives and doctors were required to register children up to age three who showed symptoms of mental retardation, physical deformity, or other symptoms included on a questionnaire from the Reich Health Ministry.
A decision on whether to allow the child to live was then made by three medical experts solely on the basis of the questionnaire, without any examination and without reading any medical records.
Each expert placed a + mark in red pencil or - mark in blue pencil under the term “treatment” on a special form. A red plus mark meant a decision to kill the child. A blue minus sign meant a decision against killing. Three plus symbols resulted in a euthanasia warrant being issued and the transfer of the child to a ‘Children’s Specialty Department’ for death by injection or gradual starvation.
Patients had to be reported if they suffered from schizophrenia, epilepsy, senile disorders, therapy resistant paralysis and syphilitic diseases, retardation, encephalitis, Huntington’s chorea and other neurological conditions, also those who had been continuously in institutions for at least 5 years, or were criminally insane, or did not posses German citizenship or were not of German or related blood, including Jews, Negroes, and Gypsies. A total of six killing centers were established including the well known psychiatric clinic at Hadamar.
A. In l935 in Britain, in l938 in the U S A, and in l980 in Canada. The British and America groups were very small and insignificant for the next two decades.
Q. When did the movement start to become bigger and more vocal?
A. After the hugely-publicized Karen Ann Quinlan ‘right to die’ case in New Jersey in l976 which revealed to the public the extent of modern medical technology to extend life indefinitely in a persistent vegetative state.
Q. How many people support voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill?
A. Opinion polls show average support of 60 percent in the USA, 74 percent in Canada, and 80 percent in Britain. When actually voting in official ballot measures, the support has been 46 percent in Washington State (l991), 46 percent in California (l992), and 51 percent in Oregon (l994).
Q. How many physicians support voluntary euthanasia?
A. Numerous opinion polls indicate that half the medical profession would like to see it made law. It also appears that about 15 percent of physicians already practice it on justifiable occasions. The leaderships of the professional medical associations, like the American Medical Association, remain adamantly opposed.
Q. Where does the main opposition to voluntary euthanasia come from?
A. From the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Also religious sects on the religious right.
Q. Which religious sects officially support the principle of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill?
A. The United Church of Christ (Congregational), the Unitarian Church, and the Methodist Church on the West coast of America. It appears that the congregations of most churches are divided on the issue.
Q. Where is voluntary euthanasia (assisted dying) lawful in the world?
A. In only two places. (1) The American state of Oregon, where its citizens in November, l994, voted for Ballot Measure 16 which permits physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill under limited conditions. This law is held up by an injunction obtained by the National Right To Life Committee on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. The Measure 16 sponsors are appealing this ruling to a higher court in the Spring of l996.
(2) In May of l995 the legislature of the Northern Territories State of Australia passed a voluntary euthanasia law which permits terminally ill people to ask for medically assisted death either by injection or taking the drugs themselves. This law will come into effect some time in l996.
Q. But what about the Netherlands where it has been going on for years?
A. Assisted dying (euthanasia) is still technically a crime in the Netherlands (Holland), but the Dutch Parliament and Supreme Court have ruled that, provided certain conditions are met, physicians may assist people to die with either lethal injection or fatal drugs taken by mouth. The majority choose the injection because it is quicker.
No copyright on these facts provided that the following is included: Source: ERGO! (Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization)
In the first paradise, Adam and Eve had, with the state of grace, the special gift of impassibility (absence of suffering) and of immorality. There are two other gifts that do not concern us here: integrity (absence of disordered passions) and knowledge. It is interesting to know how this gift of immortality was given to the first man. It was by eating the fruit of the tree of life. A violent death remained possible but a special Providence of God prevented it.
But as a consequence of his first sin of rebellion against God, Adam lost sanctifying grace and the special gifts. God “cast out Adam and Eve and placed before the Paradise of pleasure cherubim, and a flaming sword, running every way to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen 3:24) lest Adam “take of the tree of life and eat and live forever” (Gen 3:22). Then aging , suffering and death entered the world. They must be now considered punishment for sin. “By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death.” (Romans 5:12)
But since the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world, aging, suffering and death, united to the sufferings and death of Our Lord during his Passion, obtain supernatural fruits if we are in the state of grace:
they obtain the reparation of our personal sins and, with the communion of Saints, of the sins of our neighbor. With sufferings and death, we are co-redeemers with Our Lord, we save the world with Him;
they prepare us for eternal life, forcing to turn one’s back on the world;
they can become a period of spiritual ascent by our union with Our Lord crucified.
The catechism of St. Pius X teaches that “extreme unction is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord for the spiritual as well as the temporal comfort of the sick in danger of death.” This sacrament is invalid if given to persons who are only old but are not in danger of death, as alas it is practiced today in many places.
This sacrament, as the Catechism of St. Pius X says:
increases sanctifying grace;
remits venial sins, and also mortal sins which the sick person, if contrite, is unable to confess;
takes away weakness and sloth which remain even after pardon has been obtained;
gives strength to bear the illness patiently, to withstand;
aids in restoring us to health of body if it is for the good of the soul. (This is not a miracle. The sacrament strengthens the natural resistance of the organism, which can cure the sick. There are numerous examples of this occurrence but it is important that the sacrament be not given too late. The sacrament must be given as soon as the sick is in danger of death, even doubtfully.)
The decision to give this sacrament or not belongs to the priest. But the family, the doctor, the nurse, have the duty to call a priest as soon as the sick is in danger of death even doubtfully. It can help in the recovery of the sick person, and above all help him serbear and offer his sufferings to gain merits and to prepare him for death.
Question? Must we tell the sick that he is going to die?
Answer. If we do not, the sick cannot prepare himself for death. The announcement of the death belongs to the contract existing between the sick and his doctor. The doctor has the duty to inform the sick about his health and not to hide the reality. It is a question of justice (there is a contract) and a question of charity (we must love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God).
A nurse has not the same obligation as the doctor because there is not the same contract. A nurse has only the obligation of charity, and only a serious disadvantage (for example threat of dismissal) could exempt her from informing the sick if the doctor does not do it.
Obviously, prudence and wisdom are required to announce to a sick person that he is going to die. In some cases it is better to wait some time in order that the sick is in a better moral condition to receive such news. But “to postpone by reluctance (without reason) the preparation of a sick to his passage to eternity could easily be a serious sin” (Pope Pius XII, May 21, 1952).
Pope Pius XII:
Address to those attending the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women’s League, Sept. 11, 1947;
Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, Oct 29, 1951;
Speech to the members of the International Office of Military Medicine Documentation, Oct. 19, 1953
Address to those taking part in the IXth Congress of the Italian Anaesthesiological Society, Feb 26, 1957;
Address on reanimation, November 26, 1957.
Holy Office (against Euthanasia imposed by the State):
Decrees of Dec 2, 1940 and Feb 22, 1941 (during the time of Euthanasia practices by the Nazi state in Germany)
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Declaration on Euthanasia, May 5, 1980. (This declaration uses many principles of modern philosophy, but the conclusions remain important.)
Killing an innocent is a crime against the 5th commandment “Thou shall not kill”. This commandment forbids the killing of the innocent, not the killing of the guilty, which can be sometimes ordered by the state for the common good. This is clear in the Old testament where Moses also gave laws to kill the guilty, and in the doctrine of the Church (the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas for example). Euthanasia is a crime against the same commandment as abortion.
Let us quote here Pope Pius XII.
“ If there exists no direct casual link, either through the will of interested parties or by the nature of things, between the induced unconsciousness and the shortening of life – as would be the case if the suppression of the pain could be obtained only by the shortening of life: and if on the other hand, the actual administration of the drugs brings about two distinct effects, the one the relief of pain, the other the shortening of life, the action is lawful. It is necessary however to observe whether there is, between these two effects, a reasonable proportion, and if the advantages of the one compensate for the disadvantage of the other. It is important also to ask oneself if the present state of science does not allow the same result to be obtained by other means” (Feb. 26, 1957).
Second point: About suffering and use of sedatives
We must know that heroism is possible and we have examples of priests, religious, sisters, lay persons who refused sedatives and analgesics and offered their sufferings.
Most of the time, the sufferings can also be an obstacle to spiritual life and can lead to despair and even rebellion against God. Refusing the sedative may be presumptuous.
Sedatives are obviously permitted.
Let us quote Pope Pius XII:
“The growth in love of God and abandonment to His will does not come from the sufferings themselves which are accepted, but from the intention in the will supported by grace. This intention in many of the dying, can be strengthened and become more active if their sufferings are eased, for these sufferings increase the state of weakness and physical exhaustion, check the ardor of soul and sap the moral powers instead of sustaining them. On the other hand, the suppression of pain removes any tension in body and mind, renders prayer easy, and makes possible a more generous gift of self. If some dying persons accept their sufferings as a means of expiation and a source of merits in order to go forward in the love of God and in abandonment to His will, do not force anesthetics on them. They should rather be helped in following their own way. Where the situation is entirely different, it would be inadvisable to suggest to dying persons the ascetical considerations set out above, and it is to be remembered that instead of assisting towards expiation and merit, suffering can also furnish occasion for new faults” (Feb. 24,1957).
There may be a problem with the action of the sedative on the conscience of the sick. We must remember that our earthly life has its meaning in the eternal life. Also, when the sedatives are going to suppress the conscience of the sick, we must let the sick prepare himself to eternal life by the reception of the sacraments of penance, the Holy Eucharist, extreme unction, and also urge him to accomplish his last duties, such as his last will and testament.
Let us quote Pope Pius XII in answer to a group of doctors who had put the question:
“Is the suppression of pain and consciousness by the use of narcotics…permitted by religion and morality to the doctor and the patient (even at the approach of death and if one foresees that the use of narcotics will shorten life)?” the Pope said: “ If no other means exist, and if, in the given circumstance, this does not prevent the carrying out of other religious and moral duties: Yes” (Sept. 9, 1958).
Obviously “ it is not right to deprive the dying person of consciousness without a serious reason” (Sept.9, 1958).
Third point: About ordinary and extraordinary means.
(Bibliography: Pope Pius XII; Congregation of the D sooine of the Faith; Noldin, Theologia Moralis)
a. Everybody has the duty to employ what is necessary to the conservation of his own life and health, to avoid what is harmful to them, and to use what can restore the health. Let us quote St. Thomas Aquinas (commentary on the 2ndepistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, lect. II, n. 77): “A man has the obligation to sustain his body, otherwise he would be a killer of himself; by precept therefore, he is bound to nourish his body and likewise we are bound to all the other items without which the body cannot live.”
b. Everybody has the duty to conserve his own life and health by ordinary means. This principle is just a consequence of the precedent. The ordinary means are the means that are commonly used by men to preserve their own life, and which can be procured by ordinary diligence.
What are these ordinary means today?
-ordinary surgery, etc.
c. “If there are no sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patients consent, to have recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without certain risk” (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , May 5, 1980). These means, provided by the most advanced medical techniques, are called extraordinary means.
What are the characteristics of an extraordinary means?
They depend on:
the common estimation
the price of the surgery
the danger of death
the personal repulsion for this means
the pains of the surgery
the proportion of this means and the hope of success
the length of the treatment.
“It is also permissible to make do with the normal means that medicine can offer. Therefore one cannot impose on anyone the obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which carries a risk or is burdensome. Such a refusal is not the equivalent of suicide; on the contrary, it should be considered as the acceptance of the human condition, or a wish to avoid the application of a medical procedure disproportionate to the results that can be expected, or a desire not to impose excessive expense on the family or on the community” (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
Sometimes there is an obligation employing the extraordinary means: when the life or the health of the sick is necessary to the common good of a family or the society.
When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. In such circumstance the doctor has no reason to reproach himself with failing to help the person in danger.
“It is also permitted , with the patients consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be made of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patients’ family, as also of the advise of the doctors who are specially competent on the matter. The latter may in particular judge that the investment in instruments and personnel is disproportionate to the results foreseen; they may also judge that the techniques applied impose on the patient strain or suffering out of proportion with the benefits which he or she may gain from such techniques” (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
In the beginning of this process, it is said that the population of the country is too big, that contraception becomes necessary , and even that contraception will prevent abortion (we answer these problems in our leaflet on contraception). We must tell here that the introduction of contraception is always done in a context of increasing immorality spread by television, movies, advertisements, magazines, sexual education in the schools, and so on. It is the liberation of sexuality, and this immorality increases the need of to practice contraception.
But after some years, this contraception obviously induces an anti-conception mentality. So it becomes easy to introduce abortion. In the beginning, it was said that abortion was introduced only in order to help poor women victims of rape, and such other cases. But very quickly, abortion became permitted for all women who do not want any more babies. Now after some years, abortion has made a mortal breach in the respect of life. Then, people having no more respect for life, euthanasia can easily be introduced.
What are the causes of this introduction?
Firstly, contraception and abortion cause such a decrease in birth rate that the proportion of old people (whose number increases with the legitimate progress of science) becomes too much important for the economy of a country.
Secondly, euthanasia is introduced when people do not have any more faith in the value of sufferings and death united to the sufferings and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For the doctors who do not have the faith anymore, death is a failure. When they can’t avoid it (cancers in terminal phase, old people), then they prefer to induce it.
Families that do not have faith anymore, are no longer able to support the illness and treatment of the sick. They don’t want to see these sufferings anymore, they say that it is too expensive (we must say that euthanasia is more often asked by the families and rarely by the sick).
So they have “this false piety which is a pretext to justify euthanasia and make man avoid purifying and meritorious sufferings, not by a charitable and praiseworthy relief, but by death as it is given to an animal without reason and without immortality”. (Pope Pius XII, Sept 11, 1947)
In order to fight against this culture of death:
We must fight for life, fight against contraception, abortion, and euthanasia.
We must spread the doctrine of the faith, help people to understand what is the meaning of life and death according to the Revelation made by Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is impossible to remain only at a natural level, ignoring the supernatural order, ignoring the reality of eternity.
About the Academy of Catholic Traditional Biomedical Ethics
The objectives of this Academy, placed under the patronage of St Martin of Porres, are:
1. To help the members of the medical profession (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.) to know in depth the traditional teachings of the Church on medical issues and problems.
2. To link and bond the traditional members of the medical profession.
3 To participate in the mission of the Society of St. Pius X by an apostolate towards members of the medical profession who are not Traditional Catholics.
4. To fight against degradation and corruption in the field of medicine and morals by our influence in the medical profession and by means of mass media when possible.
The following activities of the academy are held every three months:
1. Medical missions organized by the Society of St. Pius X
2. Meetings to study the traditional doctrines of the Church on problematic issues in the medical field. Meetings will begin with the Mass, then a potluck dinner, after which a conference will be given by a priest of the Society, sometimes by doctors, on a chosen medical issue.