Colombia Seeks Legalizing Murder, Says Bioethicist

Explains Contradictions in Euthanasia Legislation

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By Jesús Colina


ROME, SEPT. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Colombia's draft law on euthanasia and assisted suicide would introduce "legal murder," which is a "juridical contradiction," warns an internationally renowned Catholic expert in bioethics.

Legionary of Christ Father Ramón Lucas Lucas, professor of bioethics at Rome's European University and founding member of the Bioethics Observatory of the Catholic University of Colombia, expressed his concern about the proposal.

On Sept. 17, in the first of four debates, the Senate's First Commission approved the draft "to regulate the practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Colombia."

The proposal, which initially did not receive much attention, has in recent weeks become part of the national debate, given the opposition of representatives of the Church and a growing awareness of the grave dangers it implies, as pointed out by Father Lucas Lucas.

The priest highlighted the dangers in a course on bioethics for the clergy of the Archdiocese of Bogota and the network of neighboring dioceses, which he gave Sept. 8-10, and in a course for professors of the Catholic University of Colombia, which took place Sept. 10-12.

Juridical contradiction

According to the bioethicist, the Colombian draft law "is legal murder and a juridical contradiction," as it allows the elimination of "'useless old people,' terminal patients and, in certain cases, the appropriation of their goods."

In a reflection shared with ZENIT, Father Lucas Lucas explained that "even if masked with pretty words -- 'dignified death,' 'gentle death,' 'no suffering,' 'respect of dignity' -- it is a real crime."

He explained: "There is no doubt in the scientific, moral, political and religious realms about the fact that when medicine cannot offer a cure, what it must do is alleviate the suffering and pain of patients, not do away with them. The remedy for sickness is not to kill the patient, not even if he requests it."

"The patient does not desire death, what he desires is an end to suffering. That is why one can and must administer all kinds of palliatives of pain, including those that can indirectly accelerate death, but without the intention of killing the patient, as are those whose primary action is analgesic, and the secondary and unwanted effect is to accelerate death. Opposed to this, the voluntary and direct elimination of the patient is euthanasia."

Therapeutic aggression

Continuing with his analysis, the priest explained that "what is licit, and in addition, an ethical and social duty, is to avoid therapeutic aggression, which is described as the use of disproportionate and no longer useful means for the patient."

"That is, one can remove or pass up all those measures that for the patient are now disproportionate and useless, which prolong his agony more than offer him elements for improvement," he explained. "What can never be done, out of respect for his person, is to deny or deprive him of the means proportionate to him according to the situation and health care level of the country at the time."

Father Lucas Lucas, author of the best-seller "Bioethics for All," translated into some 10 languages (including Korean and Ukrainian), said that "euthanasia is a mortal attack on the dignity of the human person, on which the Colombian state is based as expressed in the Constitution."

"It is always a crime, also when it is practiced for merciful ends and at the request of the patient," he stressed. "The principal expression of respect for a person's dignity, is not only respect for his autonomy -- the decision he makes -- but also respect for the objective good contained in that decision, or avoidance of the objective evil contained in the decision."

Possible victims

According to the priest, "a democratic and social state has the duty to protect the poorest and the needy, such as the handicapped, the elderly and terminally ill patients. When the state, instead of protecting the weakest, gives legal cover to their death, it is automatically transformed into a totalitarian state, the foundations of coexistence are broken, and a society of death arises."

Professor Lucas Lucas recalled that the legalization of euthanasia in Holland has created an acute social problem because confidence in hospitals has been lost and it has motivated the elderly not to seek treatment, given the fear that they will be given a lethal injection. Because of this, the NPV organization has been founded, which has close to 100,000 members, who carry a card saying that they do not want to be checked into a hospital.

The statutory draft law of the Colombian Senate would give shelter to many "other barbarities, not only ethical but also economic and social, for example, a car might be purchased with the insurance funds of the person euthanized," assured the philosopher.

He explained: "Behind [the phrase] 'so that he won't suffer' might be hidden a 'because he bothers me' [...] I would like to remove the burden.' There might also be the case of desperate patients who, although everything reasonable has been done for them, think that euthanasia is being applied to them."

"Moreover, it would push social policies to extreme positions that do violence to the conscience of many Colombians. Conscientious objection on the part of the doctors can thus be erased from the existing normative when it comes to deciding on the end of a life. The statutory draft law does not provide for such conscientious objection and doctors would see themselves punished if they do not adhere to governmental mandates."

Undignified death

Father Lucas Lucas said dignified death is not being killed, but receiving support and care.

"Patients need to see they are well treated, esteemed and supported. I have never seen a patient in a terminal situation who does not hold on to life with all his might. His eyes have never looked at me with contempt for therapeutic work and support," he said.

Moreover and above all, the patient needs motivation in his pain, the priest continued. "Acceptance of pain is a mature attitude in face of a sickness that cannot be overcome, or a death that comes inexorably toward you. One who suffers thus can also fulfill himself and live his own personal dignity. Motivated sacrifices are gladly made. One who loves does not suffer and if he suffers he loves the suffering that love secures for him."

"To call euthanasia a dignified death is a deception," Father Lucas Lucas stressed. "There can be no dignity in the elimination of a human life. What is worthy is life, love, acceptance and support. Elimination, rejection, abandonment is not dignity, but masked egoism."