It seems that here and in Italy and just about everywhere the euthanasia “debate” is up and running once again. Here in Australia, Greens Senator Bob Brown has just introduced a bill for euthanasia into the Senate. And in Italy cardinals and politicians are still spatting over the Welby case. It is precisely on issues like this that we need very clear “natural law” argumentation (see my previous blog).
In Italy the problem has been exacerbated by Cardinal Martini putting his oar in where it’s neither wanted nor helpful. Cardinal Ruini made the only decision he could in the truly difficult case of Piergiorgio Welby. Welby was on life support. Without this life support he would (and did) die. Too many people (including Cardinal Martini) are confusing the Welby case with the situation where a patient opts to refuse over burdensome extraordinary mechanical treatment, where the treatment is disproportionate to the outcome that can be reasonably expected.
The fact is (as Cardinal Ruini has quite simply and accurately identified) Welby’s desire and intention was not merely to end burdensome treatment, but actually to end his life. Cardinal Ruini refused the request of Welby’s family for a church funeral because “Mr. Welby repeatedly and publicly affirmed his desire to end his life, something that is incompatible with Catholic doctrine”.
This emphasis upon intention is well maintained in an essay just published by Fr Michael Whelan of the Aquinas Academy entitled “Euthanasia: Some Questions and Issues Arising.” In this essay–which is a fine example of arguing completely from the basis of reason and natural law without any reference whatsoever to revealed law–Whelan maintains that:
to withhold extraordinary mechanical means, without which someone will die–for example, when a person is in a vegetative state with no realistic hope of that changing–it may be morally acceptable to turn off the machines that are keeping that person alive; that is not euthanasia;
He appears to be agreeing with Martini at this point, but then he makes a distinction which Martini fails to make, the very distinction upon which Ruini based his decision:
the critical question to ask is, “What is intended?” If you intend to kill the individual that is an essentially different moral act to one in which the intention is not to kill the individual but to ease the individual’s distress or avoid unnecessary and/or undignified processes to eke out a few more months of life. (Needless to say, the intention to kill should not be masked by protestations that what you are doing is simply to ease the person’s distress or carrying out “what Grandma would want”. If you intend to kill you intend to kill, no matter how you disguise it.)
This short paper is worth reading in depth, and would be a good basis for the study of the issue in parishes. Note however that Fr Whelan’s paper can in no sense be called a “Bible study” for the reason I have a ready stated: it doesn’t refer to a single Bible verse. Nevertheless I believe the conclusion it comes to is one which is entirely Godly, entirely virtuous, and entirely Christian. It is the type of clear thinking that Christians have to learn to display in public discourse if we are to head Bob Brown’s euthanasia bill off at the pass.