Doulas or Ghoulas?

01-11-2015Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Over the past several years Switzerland has become famous not for its cheese, chocolates or Alps but for suicide, specifically assisted suicide. The Swiss have permitted "suicide clinics" to open where you can go and do yourself in. (Though I do applaud the Swiss for forbidding medical professionals from participating as the clinics are lay run. Physicians and nurses should not be in the business of killing their patients.)

Those who come to the Clinics, especially from outside of Switzerland are referred to as "suicide tourists". Suicide tourism is becoming its own industry in Switzerland. One elderly couple from the United Kingdom, Sir Edward Downes (85yrs old) and his wife Joan (74 yrs. old) decided to go to Switzerland since Sir Edward lost most of his eyesight and decided assisted suicide was the bon vage for him. His wife, Joan who was healthy, decided she did not want to live without her husband of 54yrs and decided that she would also participate. So husband and wife with the help of others took their lives.

The couple had many supporters and many who cheered on their "right" to die in the manner they choose without interference.

Meanwhile, according to CNN recently a "woman named Connie Ley made an unusual request in her will before she died in Aurora, Indiana: She asked that her German shepherd, Bela, be euthanized and buried with her. Weeks later, however, Bela, who is 9 years old and male, is healthy and very much alive. And there's a growing movement on social media to defy his late owner's wishes and spare the animal."

Why is it that there was so much support for Joan Downes to die with her husband but so little support for the Connie Ley's wishes to have her dog euthanized and be buried with her? Surely Connie knew her dog well enough to know that he would not want to live with out his mistress just like Sir Edward knew his wife did not want to live without him?

The two stories are not morally equivalent. The case can be made for the dog that he was his owners property and she had the right to do with the animal as she believed was in the dog's best interest. (Personally I think it wrong to euthanize a healthy animal that can be cared for by another.) But morally speaking euthanizing an animal is simply not the same as euthanizing a human being. Still people are fighting to stop the dog from being euthanized but no one fought to stop Joan Downes from being assisted with her suicide.

Both stories pull on the heartstrings but strange how quickly people will support the right of an animal to live but not the right of a human person. Or fight hard to protect the life of an animal and have almost complete disregard for defending human life.

These stories show the trouble with assisted suicide: it very quickly morphs from relieving terrible pain and suffering from the terminally ill to permitting it for anyone who suffers for any reason whatsoever especially the disabled. In the end this amounts to the profound abandonment of those who suffer.
I mention this in the beginning of the New Year, not to be a killjoy but to alert you all that we need to pay attention to this issue in the coming year, as Arizona is one of the states that is vulnerable to having assisted suicide become a legal reality.

So pay very close attention to this issue. The mainstream media is the biggest cheerleader for assisted death. If you followed the story of Brittany Maynard, the young woman who very publically declared she would end her life with assisted suicide, you saw how the media made her a celebrity and CNN News listed her as one of the "extraordinary" people of 2014. Yet Robin Williams who also committed suicide in 2014 wasn't considered "extraordinary". His death was deeply mourned but Maynard's death was highly celebrated. Now that same-sex marriage does not need the media promotion, assisted suicide is poised to become the next big issue they push.

Don't be fooled by the Orwellian use of language that is designed to soften the idea and make it more "respectable": death doulas, compassion and choices, death with dignity, the right to self-determination. And remember the trajectory of how this all works: that which was at one time unthinkable becomes debatable and then justifiable until it becomes unexceptional.

"How great a lie, on the other hand, lurks behind certain phrases which so insist on the importance of "quality of life" that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!"
Pope Francis message for World Day of the Sick (12/30/14)

Fr. John B.