Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's all about choice these days

Something that always surprises me is the number of people I work side by side with who have such a low value of their own lives. As a paramedic, I often care for and transport elderly people in an emergency situation who are either at the natural end of their long lives, or who may be suffering from dementia, or are incapacitated in some other way. It is becoming more common to hear my co-workers comment that if they were in that same situation, they would want their spouse to "do them in." They may even have made some kind of an agreement with their spouse to achieve this end. I remind them that once they are advanced in age they will probably place a higher value on their remaining days, and may very well change their mind about euthanasia.

A typical response sounds like this: Euthanasia? What? How is it euthanasia if I decide that I don't want to suffer through a terminal illness and have my spouse inject me with a lethal dose of morphine? I am in charge of my own life and this is no different than the daily decisions I make to cross the street safely and avoid being hit by a bus. Every day I make the decision to stay alive by my choices. To end my life when I am incapacitated, even if I need to enlist the help of my spouse, is my choice.

This usually leads to a discussion on when it is moral to stop administering medical treatment in the case of impending death. The Catechism is clear on this point - death must not be the desired end of the withdrawal of "over-zealous' treatment. Here I will let the Catechism speak for itself:


2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

It is these types of discussions that make me realize what a blessing it is to be a Catholic - we are aboard a ship in a storm, only the ship is the Catholic Church leading us to safety.


Tom in Vegas said...

This is the culture of death Pope John Paul II warned us about.

Smiley said...

There is a progression which you will see it is as follows
1 - Assisted suicide - this is the its my life why hsould i suffer so much. Can you as a doctor/ paramedic help me kill myself.
this will progress to the next step
2 - Euthanasia - Doctors prescribe death as a cure to terminal illnesses
this will progress to
3 - mandatory killing of the old/senile/useless namely those who do not contribute to the economy and are only a drain on it.

A good case to read up is the landmark Assen case refer to this link

it is from the book Seduced by Death by Herbert Hendin. This book is a must read as we in Canada will soon be forced to see Euthanasia laws made by our governments

ignorant redneck said...

Us boomers, people of a certain age and younger, will probably meet our ends at the hands of physicians, at the behest of our children, or the directive of some government functionary.

ignorant redneck said...

It just occures to me--this is in some way just, because we have wroked so hard to murder so many of our kids befor they're born, or failed to work hard enough to stop the slaughter.

Shirley said...

Thanks for this post; I've been thinking of looking this up in the Catechism.I printed this off and am keeping a copy of it with my will.

paramedicgirl said...

Shirley, don't worry, I'll never let anyone pull the plug on you!