In the past few years, the moral legitimacy of euthanasia has become a hot-button issue and even in Christian circles, opposition to its implementation has been waning. Indeed, only last week did former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu say that terminally ill people should have the right to a “dignified assisted death”, following a murder charge against a campaigner for the legalisation of euthanasia.
“Just as I have argued for compassion and fairness in life, I believe that terminally ill people should be treated with compassion and fairness when it comes to their death,” the Nobel Laureate said in a statement after the arrest last week of Sean Davison, who founded DignitySA, a right-to-die group.
“This should include affording people who have reached the end-stages of life the right to choose how and when to leave Mother Earth.”
The clergyman’s comments don’t differ that much from those of former archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey who said in 2014 that assisted dying prevents “needless suffering” and isn’t “anti-Christian”.
Although there may be a growing consensus in favour of that position, for human rights activist Baroness Nuala O’Loan, this belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Speaking to this paper, she said euthanasia is “morally wrong” and that the practice attacks those most vulnerable in society. This is certainly a claim with substance, given the chilling findings of a study last year which showed that in 2015, there were 7,254 assisted deaths in the Netherlands, 431 of which were “terminations of life without request”.
The elderly who feel they may be burdensome to their family or society, those with mental health problems, and individuals who feel they can’t speak up for their own humanity will inevitably be targeted.
Despite the tragic consequences of euthanasia, Baroness O’Loan said every year there are “constant attempts” to put a bill through Westminster in support of it, and that Ireland will soon also see the introduction of them.
Supporting such a motion undermines Church teaching and Christian principles so much so that Baroness O’Loan said it was “shocking” that any clergyman would not “recognise the importance of protecting life from conception until the grave”.
Expressing a similar mentality, theologian Fr Vincent Twomey believes that assisted suicide or euthanasia is far from dignified, and flies in the face of what “dying with dignity” in the Christian context actually means.
“The positive meaning of ‘dying with dignity’ inspired the Irish Sisters of Charity to open up the first ever hospice for the dying at Harold’s Cross in 1879 and so inaugurated the worldwide hospice movement that really allows the terminally ill to die with dignity and love,” he said.
“The use of the term ‘dignity’ as a euphemism to describe assisted suicide or euthanasia is nothing less than diabolical”.
Fr Twomey pointed out that nowadays the notion of dignity has taken on a new meaning which ignores the fact that our lives are not in our hands but are God’s, and stressed that without the influence of Christian morality, this outlook is only going to get worse.
“It’s the beginning of a movement to introduce euthanasia that’s widespread in the western world – a world that no longer knows the meaning of suffering; has no longer any sense of God in their lives; who feel they can control everything and once they can’t control it, they get rid of themselves.
“So, you’re dealing with a phenomenon that’s going to get stronger in the absence of any genuine Christian belief.”
Voices like these are worth listening to when considering a topic that can drastically change our attitude towards the sanctity of life.