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Euthanasia is a war to the death between a religious and atheistic vision of society

Suffering has a worth and purpose in the Christian faith

By on Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Having blogged last Thursday about Mark Dowd’s first programme on Radio 4 about euthanasia, “Heart and Soul”, I have now listened to his second one, broadcast last Saturday. In the first programme he interviewed Alison Davis, a Catholic convert, who suffers from spina bifida and who is a passionate opponent of euthanasia and assisted suicide. In this second episode he interviewed Edward Turner, a humanist, whose mother, Dr Anne Turner, made headlines in 2006 when, accompanied by Edward and his two sisters, she ended her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

She was suffering from a degenerative disease, similar to one her husband had died of a few years earlier. Edward’s father had had a “normal” death and his son described his last year as “a torture.” Originally opposed to assisted suicide he told Dowd that as a result of that experience he thinks “we hold on to other people’s lives longer than is good for them.” At first he was opposed to his mother’s wish and with his sisters did everything he could to make her life enjoyable and comfortable. But Dr Turner, a retired GP who had specialised in family planning, was adamant that she wanted to die before she became completely helpless and dependent on others.

Turner began to feel selfish in opposing his mother’s wishes. When he returned to the UK after her death the local vicar, together with a humanist practitioner, arranged a humanist funeral for her in his parish church. According to Turner they both agreed that the funeral “marked one of the high points of their professional careers.”

Throughout the programme the interviewer, Mark Dowd, came across as tactfully as he had done in his earlier interview with Alison Davis. You could not guess where his own sympathies lay – except perhaps for one small clue. Alongside his conversation with Edward Turner he also interviewed at length a doctor from a Kenyan hospice as well as a doctor in South Africa. They both spoke of the importance of palliative care and how different the African culture is in its attitude towards the sick and the dying. Where the average life expectancy is 52 years, the aim of medicine is to reduce this mortality rather than to end life.

The Kenyan doctor explained to Dowd that religious faith is at the heart of this discussion. Suicide is very much disapproved of; Africans regard it as offending their ancestors; their families would be stigmatised by the community. Also, the culture means that illness and dying are “not such a lonely place” as in the Western world; there is much less emphasis on individual autonomy; you are part of a community rather than an isolated individual. Dowd gave as much airtime to this positive African perspective – not something, I would have thought, a covert euthanasia sympathiser would have done in a programme wanting to show the “pro-choice” point of view.

Dr Jonathan Romain, a Reform rabbi, was also briefly interviewed. He used to worry about the “slippery slope” argument but had “watched too many people die in agony”; he has been impressed by the safeguards formulated by Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions and now thinks that assisting suicide “is a religious thing to do.” He told Dowd he thought doctors should “play God” and use their skills to help people “die with dignity.”

Certain things came over clearly in these two programmes: broadly speaking it is a war (to the death) between a religious (largely Christian) outlook and a humanist/atheistic one. If you believe in life after death it gives you a different perspective than if you don’t. You can also accept the possibility of helplessness and dependence because suffering has worth and purpose within the Christian faith. Living by rational principles as Turner does, means that seeming to prolong suffering when faced by terminal illness makes no sense.

I have just come across a book by Ann Farmer, about whom I have blogged recently, entitled “The Five Wounds”. For many years she has suffered from a physical illness and her book, published by Gracewing, is a wonderful testament to the Christian outlook on suffering (the Five Wounds are those of Christ on the Cross). In a postscript on suicide she writes, “The only effective answer to human suffering is love; in committing suicide we would curtail our capacity to love and be loved; we would be inflicting a fatal wound on an already wounded spirit. The “death as a solution” approach is based on the assumption that the earthly life is the only life. As such, it offers an easy way out of suffering, a promise of true rest, eternal sleep…but death without God would not mean eternal sleep; it would mean eternity without love.”

I heartily recommend this book to Keir Starmer, Dr Romain and the humanist practitioner – indeed to anyone laid low by pain, physical or mental. It is a prescription for hope rather than despair – which is really what “assisted suicide” is all about.

  • Nat_ons

    It is, I suspect, merely part of the Nietzche-worship left over from the early 20th century, and so radically adopted in Nazi, Communist and Spirit-of-Aquarius ideologies as the century went on then died.

    ‘Most Eugenists are Euphemists.  I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them.  And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing.’ GK Chesterton, Eugenics.

    The first – and most important – part of this still prevailing ideology of euphemism is to make an unpleasant ideal seem to be the ‘Good’ or at least a good thing; the destruction of all ‘dis’-’ease’ in individuals being a prime goal (and extending to all of life, from seed to extinction).

  • Jeannine

    How can a Jew especially a rabbi, tell anyone to “play God”? Aren’t the 10 Commandments in the Torah?

  • theroadmaster

    The proponents of euthanasia as the final solution to grave illness or severe physical/psychological pain, try to couch their arguments in  plausible, sympathetic terms to convince the listener that they  have the patient’s interests at heart.  On first hearing, the arguments have a specious appeal that might win over unsuspecting hearers, if they do not dig any further than the superficial layer present to them.  There are clearly two different and diametrically-opposed philosophies of life which are engaged in a battle to win over the hearts and minds of the public for their respective camps.  The pro-euthanasia lobby promote an individual’s right to chose their own exit from this life, when suffering becomes too much of a burden to the patient and this comes from a limited post-enlightenment view of  a man or woman’s worth in this life.  The rather more “enlightened” approach incorporates a proper understanding of the unique worth of each individual on both a human and spiritual level and this is the Christian philosophy of life.  This is the direct inspiration for the Hospice movement which treats the patient on a complete holistic sense and leads them beyond the nihilistic, bleak alternative of self-administered death or assisted suicide.

  • Acleron


    You can also accept the possibility of helplessness and dependence because suffering has worth and purpose within the Christian faith. ‘

    What possible worth is there from suffering? If you truly believed in that you would have to voluntarily choose to suffer rather than not.

    Your aim is to make something noble about suffering. I know people who are noble despite the suffering they endure. Their demeanour is not enhanced by suffering.

    But your main aim is quite repressive, you want everyone whether they buy into your creed or not to follow your precepts. If the law is changed to allow assisted suicide then protections can be put in place to prevent any misuse. Atheists and humanists are not asking you to end your life and I fail to see why I should be governed by your beliefs.

  • theroadmaster

    Once you start legislating to give people suffering from serious painful illnesses or conditions the right to terminate their own lives, you encounter what is commonly called the “slippery slope”.  The Netherlands is a prime example of this where the right to euthanize oneself out of this life has been on the statute book since 2000.  Cases have come to light concerning the giving of lethal doses by physicians to patients without their express consent.  A few years ago the Dutch parliament was debating a move to extend the right to take one’s life to young kids who felt that they could not withstand their illnesses or had become so clinically depressed that death was the only answer.  This same pattern of physicians or medical staff administering lethal drugs to patients in dubiously subjective circumstances, has been observed  in the US state of Oregon, where pro-euthanasia legislation was enacted.  Now you can see a discernible pattern in all of this from what started as a speciously plausible humanist argument to sympathetically end suffering, and it has led to other criteria, such as a patient’s mental health being included as suitable grounds for physician-assisted suicide.  This  type of trend also marked the development of pro-abortion legislation around the world, where limited circumstances for it’s application ended up inevitably as abortion on demand.  Legislators in the UK must be on their guard against superficially attractive arguments in favor of such evils as euthanasia and look at the profoundly toxic nature of it’s effects on medical ethics and doctor-patient relationships.

  • Isaac

    “What possible worth is there from suffering? If you truly believed in that you would have to voluntarily choose to suffer rather than not.”
    Indeed many of us do, and I dare say you have done it too. When we love someone we are willing to suffer for their sake, i.e, we “voluntarily choose to suffer rather than not”. (I’m sure you can find examples from your own life, the lives of those close to you, and from human history.) 

    -

    “Your aim is to make something noble about suffering. I know people who are noble despite the suffering they endure. Their demeanour is not enhanced by suffering.”

    Not quite, although I hesitate to speak for FP. The nobleness lies in the sufferer not in the suffering. The issue here is not whether one’s demeanour is enhanced by suffering but whether one becomes a better person because of it (and this, to answer your opening question, is the worth that there is from suffering). And the evidence that suffering can lead to the moral betterment of the sufferer is considerable; it would be dishonest to dismiss it.

    -

    “But your main aim is quite repressive, you want everyone whether they buy into your creed or not to follow your precepts.”

    No, on the contrary FP is merely articulating her views. You are free to disagree with them; indeed you have. How have you been repressed? (I return to this below.)

    -

    “If the law is changed to allow assisted suicide then protections can be put in place to prevent any misuse.”

    Growing evidence from countries where euthanasia is legal and lack of naiveté about human behaviour make me (and many others) very skeptical that any protection would prevent misuse, and this is a very reasonable skepticism.

    -

    “Atheists and humanists are not asking you to end your life and I fail to see why I should be governed by your beliefs.”

    First, that suffering can better people, is not merely a “belief” but a view with considerable evidence behind it. Thus we are asking you, not to be governed by our beliefs, but to govern yourself in light of reality. To explore some of the evidence I suggest reading the (auto)biographies of some of the great men and women who have suffered greatly and hear from them how they view their own suffering. I suggest Victor Frankl and Corrie ten Boom (both Holocaust survivors), Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

    Second, legalising euthanasia would not just permit some actions. By saying that some actions are legally permissible would change the legal landscape of society. Indeed you implicitly recognise this yourself by bringing up the matter of protections to prevent misuse. If those who disagree with euthanasia are unaffected by legalising euthanasia what need for such  protections? But in speaking of protection against misuse you recognise that those who do not want to be euthanised might be affected by euthanasia being legalised. Thus they are stakeholders.

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

    WHEREVER THE CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD JESUS IS NOT KNOWN AND BELIEVED IN EASY

    SOLUTIONS CROP UP. PURE PAGANISM! THOSE WHO PRACTISE MERE PRIEST-CRAFT ARE

    RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS KIND OF AFFAIRS.

    ONE OF THE BEST-KNOWN EXAMPLE OF GOOD CHRISTIAN DEATH (JESUS DYING ON THE

    CROSS  – THE TYPE) IN MODERN TIMES IS THAT OF BLESSED JOHN PAUL SECOND.

    IN JESUS WE DIE TO RISE LIKE HIM EMBRACING THE PAINS AND SORROWS THAT DEATH

    AND ILLNESS BRING IN THEIR TRAIN. IN THIS THUS WE ARE UNITED WITH THE SON OF GOD

    OUR SAVIOR    -  . HE IS OUR HOPE AGAINST ALL KINDS OF EVILS.

  • Benedict Carter

    It is a fact that all pagan societies demand blood.

    Aztec (and not only) Peru, ancient Celts, the Romans, ancient Greece, the East, native American tribes, modern Westerners … must have blood. Exposing of infants (the Romans chucked them out of their windows), abortion – it’s just a technical difference, isn’t it, disguised as a “health procedure”. 

    Euthanasia is the same. Another part of Mankind’s lust for a blood sacrifice. 

    Catholicism changed all that, replacing all that death and need for bloody sacrifice with the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Eternal Victim on the altars of the world. And hence the Church civilised the world.

    Now that men have rejected Christ, even actively hate Him, that visceral demand for blood has arisen yet again … and so abortion and euthanasia. 

    I am being serious when I say that only the restoration of the Old Mass throughout thw world can stop it: not a meal service, not a neo-protestant “remembrance”, but the full restoration of the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Altars. 

    And another 500 years so the Church can civilise the West all over again. 

  • Bart_0117

    I managed to find the interview of the lady, Alison Davis.

  • Veuster

    > The only effective answer to human suffering is love; in committing suicide we would curtail our capacity to love and be loved; we would be inflicting a fatal wound on an already wounded spirit.

    What of those who have committed suicide for what they believed to be altruistic reasons? Did S Maximilian Kolbe commit suicide? Did Captain Lawrence Oates commit suicide?

  • MargaretDore

    In the United States, many secular people and atheists have been helpful in the fight against assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Similarly, some religious people fight for legalization of these practices.  I do not agree with the premise of this article.

    Assisted suicide and euthanasia are an issue of public safety.  In order to win the battle against these practices, we need to all work together: Believers and nonbelievers alike.

    Margaret Dore
    http://www.choiceillusion.org

  • Benedict Carter

    More like an issue for the French Revolutionaries’ Committee for Public Safety, of the Russian Revolutionaries’ All Russian Extraordinary Committee (CHEKA) ….. the proponents of both these horrors are the same as the executors of Red Terror.

  • Merseywally

    typical religious fanatic, christians have shown to be one of the most violent groups over history. Christians talk about the ‘choice’ god gave us, just as long as it’s the one that fits ‘his’ morals and beliefs. Abortion? Gay marriage? Euthanasia? Don’t oppose it because an old book told you to, let people live the lives they want based on the basic human morals. If there was such thing as a higher being, he would judge the intolerable first.