In the face of death (Ord 20)

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Today Jesus speaks to us of how he comes to give life in the gift of himself in the bread transformed into his flesh in the most Holy Mass.  What is amazing is that we have this reading in the very same week certain senators were working to pass a law enabling us to legally take the life of innocent people.  And what is even more food for thought was to see how this law of death was defeated on the very feast and only holy day of obligation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Australia: she who was the very giver and gateway of life, the New Eve, for all humanity.

It is not difficult to see why legalising Euthanasia is so problematic.  The most obvious reason is that to euthanase someone is to cause them harm – irreparable harm, which no human power can undo.  Causing harm obviously contradicts the objective definition of love – the gift of myself in view of the good of the other.  It is also the very antithesis not only of what it means to be a doctor, and of all medicine, but of the very property of law itself.  Societies have laws because we wish to protect each other. Using the law, something at the service of our protection, to harm innocent people undermines the very purpose of the rule of law in society at all.

Some suggest that a person has the right to end their life.  I cannot imagine a worse message to send to our young people: to suggest that suicide is ok and an option to think about.  Suicide is never ok: it is always a grave sin. This does not mean those we have lost to the scourge of suicide are not with the Lord: the pressures and anxieties and loss of sense of reality that can go on are immense, and the Lord knows and judges that perfectly with infinite love.  But even thinking about it is already a closing of the heart to the goodness of life which, no matter how much I suffer or whatever I feel, is overwhelmingly good and beautiful.

Despite this, we can be tempted to the idea of euthanasia out of compassion.  Caring for a family member who is suffering, and whose suffering we can do little to alleviate is very demanding.  Most of us have already had to go through this experience: many of us are going through it now. It is immensely frustrating.  We feel helpless, powerless and guilty. We suffer. But this suffering we undergo is not pointless: as we ourselves have experienced, it is a powerful expression of love.  It is a concrete help to the one who is suffering, for now, our loved one does not suffer alone: suffering with them, our love eases their pain and encourages their strength.

This doesn’t mean that the gravely ill needs to have their life protected at all costs.  As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, When death is considered imminent the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. However, it is legitimate to use pain-killers which do not aim at death and to refuse “over-zealous treatment”, that is the utilization of disproportionate medical procedures without reasonable hope of a positive outcome. (#471).

As Christians we can also have recourse to our Creator.  Even as I suffer, I can abandon myself into the hands of my perfectly loving Creator who has all things in hand and fills my heart to overflowing with all the true love and consolation I desire.  Let us rely on him to radiate as saints of hope to all those who are suffering today.