The Vatican and Assisted Suicide

Brittany Maynard’s suicide in the face of inoperable brain cancer last week has focused a great deal of attention on an issue that is very personal to me, having personally taken part in three end-of-life situations that were, in essence, assisted suicides. The Vatican is quite unhappy about the whole thing.

The Vatican’s top bioethics official on Tuesday called “reprehensible” the suicide of an American woman suffering terminal brain cancer who stated she wanted to die with dignity.

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the ANSA news agency that “dignity is something other than putting an end to one’s own life.”

Brittany Maynard’s suicide in Oregon on Saturday, following a public declaration of her motives aimed at sparking political action on the issue, has stirred debate over assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Carrasco de Paula said “Brittany Maynard’s act is in itself reprehensible, but what happened in the consciousness we do not know.”

As is so often the case, the Catholic Church’s doctrines are completely out of touch with the reality of people’s actual lives. Believe me, I’ve been there. What is truly reprehensible is to keep someone’s body alive and prolong their suffering against their will. I was there with my grandmother, whose body was riddled with cancer. After spending months in the hospital having surgeries and treatments, she asked to be taken home where she could die in peace. The doctors left morphine behind with a wink, knowing what would be done. It would have been cruel to let her keep suffering.

I was there with my uncle, who was dying of AIDS 19 years ago. He had lived 9 years with the disease at a time when few did that and most of that time was healthy. But at the end, he was in absolute misery. He had dementia and pneumonia that could not be made better. I was standing at his bedside when he finally died, again helped by morphine. He was literally gasping for air and his body convulsed constantly. What would have been reprehensible is letting him continue in that condition any longer than necessary.

And I was there with my mother a year later. She had gotten a lung transplant and had gone into serious rejection. She went in for a minor surgery and went into cardiac arrest in recovery. She didn’t want to keep fighting. Before she left for the hospital she said to me, “I wish I could go to sleep and just have it be over with.” And that’s what happened. She was still unconscious when she had a heart attack and she never woke up. She was down for 9 minutes before they revived her. She had brain damage, but she was “alive” on machines. She would almost certainly never have regained consciousness, but they could keep her “alive” for a long time. Her wishes were absolutely clear. She even had a Do Not Resuscitate code on her chart, but it was initially ignored. The family made the decision to shut off the machines and let her go. It would have been absolute cruelty to do anything else, not to mention a clear violation of her wishes.

I think the Catholic church’s position on this is what is truly reprehensible.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mr Ed

    My grandmother was a hardcore Polish Catholic so I don’t think she would have have opted to shorten her life. We did home hospice and up until the last two weeks she was a a very sick woman but still living her life. The last two weeks I watch her twisted in pain begging Jesus to take her. Her life was effectively over at this point the only thing left was the suffering and the dying.

    If I let the family dog slowly die of the same cancer in the same manner most people would see that as animal cruelty. The mercy we show our pets we are forbidden to show ourselves.

  • Kevin Kehres

    Ah, we have a winner in the 2014 Oxymoron of the Year contest.

    Vatican bioethics official.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Look, if I, a Conservative Christian, didn’t force people who aren’t me to live in misery, I wouldn’t be respecting life.

  • moarscienceplz

    Awww Kevin Kehres @#2 beat me too it.

    Then I’ll just add that “The Vatican’s top bioethics official” is pretty much equivalent to “the cutest rat in the sewer”.

  • LightningRose

    The Raping Children Church has long lost any claim to the moral high ground.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    @ Modus

    I wish that that were satire. Sadly, that seems to be an actual motivation. From what I read, Mother Theresa worshiped suffering as some kind of noble thing. In others, of course, I’m reasonably certain that she would have avoided it for herself.

  • Al Dente

    Because Jesus suffered on the cross the Catholic Church believes that suffering is good. No, I’m not making that up or being hyperbolic. That’s why Mother Theresa limited the use of anesthetics and analgesics in her hospices. She was following Catholic dogma.

  • The Other Lance

    My very Roman Catholic maternal grandmother was 98 years old when she passed. She had survived her husband by quite a few years and was ready to go. She successfully hid a UTI from her nursing home care givers until it was too late to do anything about it. As far as I know she was not in pain when she passed, her body just sort of gave up. She told my mother that she was ready to go when Mom asked her why she hid the infection.

  • magistramarla

    Yet another good reason to live on the west coast! If my beloved California hasn’t passed an end-of-life law by the time I reach that point, I would do what this young woman did and move to Oregon.

    My mother had a Do Not Resuscitate order and I had her power of attorney. Unfortunately, the nursing home sent her to a catholic hospital. I was in another state, and I was receiving daily calls from doctors and nurses trying to make me feel guilty if I did not authorize the efforts that they wanted to make to keep her living. I stuck to it and wouldn’t cave in, so she died sooner than they would have liked.

    They didn’t realize that the guilt trips didn’t work on me, since I had long lost any feelings for my abuser.

    The sad thing is that they probably succeed with many adult children, who then authorize procedures that their parent did not want. I wonder how much of this is being devout on the part of the medical professionals and how much is driven by greed, since the hospital and its staff stand to gain a lot of money if a person’s life is prolonged?

  • mig06

    Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life

    Ironically, “carrasco” means executioner in Portuguese.

  • raven

    Because Jesus suffered on the cross the Catholic Church believes that suffering is good. No, I’m not making that up or being hyperbolic.

    True.

    The Catholic church is big on suffering being a virtue, something about offering up your suffering to jesus and god.

    It makes no sense whatsoever. And AFAIk, isn’t found in the bible. Why would god and jesus want your suffering anyway? Suffering is just suffering and something we don’t need or want.

    The idea that suffering is good for your soul and something to give to their gods is IMO, plain evil and stupid.

  • flatlander100

    What moves me to fury is a priest or nun, ministering to some one in acute and terminal suffering pain, advising them to “offer it up” as if this was an incredible opportunity god had given them to display their faith.

    Jesus H. Christ.

  • felidae

    Catholic doctrine awards extra points in the afterlife for dying in agony, based on emulating ol’ JC–if you want to talk about something reprehensible, this sure is it. Pain and suffering are not ennobling or contribute to human dignity.

  • steve84

    Of course there can’t be a shortcut to heaven. If there were too many people would take it and deprive the churches of control, money and new followers.

  • allosteric

    The fetishization of suffering by the RCC is sick, sick, sick. You can see it in the gory, grotesque imagery of their “art” such as the Sacred Heart images and the overly dramatic crucifixes. A lot of RCC members really liked Gibson’s snuff flick, too. All Christians engage in this to some degree, and some evangelicals are worse than RC’s, but I’ve definitely seen a look of horror on the faces of mainline protestants when they step into a Catholic church for a wedding, etc and see the gory artwork.

  • dan4

    “…but what happened in the consciousness we do not know.”

    Huh? Is this a “broken English” way of implying that Mrs. Maynard may not have been all right in the head, and that’s way she made (in the Vatican’s opinion) the wrong choice to end her life?

  • johnhodges

    In the Middle Ages, life on Earth was miserable for the great majority of people. The Catholic Church has a doctrine that you will go to Heaven if and only if you die in a “state of grace”. Technically, you are in a S of G between the time that you confess and are absolved, and the next time you sin. So, technically, if you went to confession, were absolved, and then committed suicide, you would go to Heaven, EXCEPT that the Church declared that suicide itself was a mortal sin. It couldn’t have all the serfs escaping their servitude, fleeing to Heaven, now, could it? So, this prohibition of end-of-life suicide, assisted or not, is a consequence.

    The glorification of suffering I speculate is just “making the best of it” for situations they could do nothing about; when ordinary life is a vale of tears, then suffering is just (a lot) more of the same.

  • dingojack

    In this year’s Melbourne Cup (run on the 4 November) one the horses was going back to the mounting yard after the race when it was spooked by a flag-waving human and it kicked a barrier breaking it’s leg. The horse was euthanized.

    Guess it’s not going to heaven then… (or perhaps, since it didn’t commit suicide but was killed by someone else, it will).

    …Some animals are more equal than others.

    Anyone for a rousing chorus of All Things Bright and Beautiful?

    @@

    Dingo

  • dingojack

    If pain and suffering are ‘good and noble’ according to the Raping Children Church, why does their god send bad people to hell to suffer for eternity? Surely, going to hell is the most noble thing a Catholic could wish to do?

    Dingo

  • http://www.facebook.com/eo.raptor.3 eoraptor

    A thing that amazes me is all the fundamental no-nos, and christian certitudes, that are nowhere to be found in their inerrant, literally true, Wholly Babble. The age of the Earth? Um, yeah, Bishop Usher counting up the years of the Patriarchs and attempting to correlate that with the age of (sorta) known events.* Abortion? Well, of course, it was demanded in some cases (suspicion of adultery being foremost), but not condemned anywhere. Suicide? Well, there does seem to be some aspersion cast upon poor Judas, but most overwhelmingly about what third and fourth century writers said he did before he hung himself. And don’t even get me started on global warming. Huh? What? Which passage was that exactly?

    Just as an aside, I chuckle a little every time I recollect that female reporter, who forgot her station in life, and tried to elicit the exact chapter and verse where marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman from a bunch of pastors a a news conference. They (the pastors) surely didn’t want to answer that question. They got her ejected, as I recall.

    * From what I’ve read, Usher actually did a relatively decent job in the correlations, given the state of knowledge at that time about things that had happened two thousand years, and more, before his writing.

  • raven

    A thing that amazes me is all the fundamental no-nos, and christian certitudes, that are nowhere to be found in their inerrant, literally true, Wholly Babble.

    Much of what xians believe isn’t found in the bible.

    The Trinity isn’t. At one point jesus prays to god in the NT. Which means jesus was praying to himself!!!

    Satan. Totally incoherent. He wasn’t the walking, talking snake in the Garden. He starts out as god’s buddy and evolves throughout and especially after the bible is written.

    The War in Heaven and Fallen angels. Later inventions. They got that from Milton who got it from Enoch, a heretical book banned from the bible.

    Papal Infallibility dates from a century or so ago and the ban on contraception from the 20th century. Neither has the slightest mention in the bible.

    If you look at xianity and the bible, it all looks like make believe, fiction, and let’s pretend.

  • karmacat

    what really angers me is how they want to impose suffering on other people. The Vatican doesn’t want to lead people. They want to control them and their choices. I can’t imagine the jesus they worship saying to his followers that they must suffer when they die

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    flatlander100@12:

    What moves me to fury is a priest or nun, ministering to some one in acute and terminal suffering pain, advising them to “offer it up” as if this was an incredible opportunity god had given them to display their faith.

    Jesus H. Christ.

    I wish I could have my last words be ‘Fuck your god’ is someone tried this with me. As it is, I have different plans. :)

  • Nick Gotts

    I think the Catholic church’s position on this is what is truly reprehensible.

    Naturally, the Catholic Church has to speak out in its CEO’s interests: if you commit suicide to avoid an agonising death, you’re depriving God of his rightful jollies! But of course according to their doctrines, poor, brave, Brittany Maynard now faces being tortured for ever at his command.