Turning the Tide Against Euthanasia

Interview With Father Thomas Rosica

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TORONTO, MAY 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- One can know if a society is still Christian by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens, according to the director of Salt and Light Catholic television network.



In this interview with ZENIT, Father Thomas Rosica commented on the Toronto-based network's newest documentary: "Turning the Tide: Dignity, Compassion and Euthanasia."

The documentary was released April 2, the second anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.

Basilian Father Rosica was the national director of World Youth Day 2002 prior to founding Canada's first Catholic television network. He also lectures on sacred Scripture at the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. Since July 2006 he is a member of the General Council of the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil.

Q: The name of your documentary is "Turning the Tide." How can we as a culture turn the tide away from the universal acceptance of euthanasia?

Father Rosica: We took the title of our documentary from the words of the great 19th-century American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe: "When ... everything goes against you … never give up … for that is just the place and time … that the tide will turn."

"Turning the Tide" looks at all aspects of the euthanasia and the assisted-suicide issue, from the point of view of those people who see themselves as most threatened if a law is passed allowing euthanasia.

When people today speak about a "good death," they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one's life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.

We have a responsibility to confront these actions -- especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.

There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty or strength or intelligence.

Q: What has been the role of the mainstream media in promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide?

Father Rosica: The mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice.

They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated, and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.

Our dignity and quality of life don't come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place -- from who we are and how we relate to each other.

Q: Many view euthanasia as compassionate, as death with dignity. What does the Church say with regard to compassion, dignity and death?

Father Rosica: This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe.

Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another's pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection and embryonic research are not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease.

But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Our society today has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life in its earliest moments to its final moments.

The Christian notion of a good death is not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness.

"Turning the Tide" proposes that true compassion is the best way to handle human suffering.

Q: Do laws prohibiting euthanasia have a place in a free society? Is the right to die a human right?

Father Rosica: Currently in Canada, euthanasia is considered murder and the law provides for a maximum of 14 years in prison for cases of assisted suicide.

In June 2005, Francine Lalonde, a Bloc Québecois member of the Canadian House of Commons, introduced Bill C-407 that would change the Canadian criminal code and legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The bill had some initial problems and was not passed, but Lalonde, re-elected in 2006, has promised to reintroduce her bill.

The notion that euthanasia and assisted suicide could be a reality for us in Canada should come as a wake-up call to all Canadians, not just because of the notion that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, but simply because of whom such a law would affect most, the most vulnerable.

This includes the chronically ill, who are a strain on the health care system; the elderly who have been abandoned and who have no one to speak on their behalf and who feel they may be a burden to others; and the disabled who have to fight every day to maintain their own integrity and dignity.

If we look at how the system has gone in the Netherlands, Belgium and in the state of Oregon in the United States, we can see that legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide will not be the solution.

Consider the following statistics:

In 1984, in the Netherlands, euthanasia was declared legal when certain conditions were met.

Even though about 2,400 cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide are reported each year, the Dutch government conducted a study in 1991 that found that there were up to 12,000 cases that year.

Of these, about half the patients did not request or consent to being killed. One of the doctors explained that it would have been "rude" to discuss the matter with the patients, as they all "knew that their conditions were incurable."

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. That year, 204 people were reported to have been killed. In 2006, 444 people were reported to have been killed. In 2005, the Belgian government acknowledged that approximately half of all euthanasia deaths are not reported.

In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 1997. In 1998, there were 16 reported assisted suicide deaths. In 2005, there were 36.

In view of what has happened in other countries, it is time to turn the tide before all Canadians have to start fighting for our lives.

Q: What can the world learn from the way Pope John Paul II lived his death?

Father Rosica: John Paul II showed us true dignity in the face of death.

Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through in the final phase of his life.

Before the cameras, John Paul II taught that although science can ease discomfort, palliative care should not be used as a cloak to hide the fact of dying.

As the curtain was about to fall, nothing made him waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed Parkinsonian mask, and ultimately his inability to speak and move.

Pope John Paul has become a living "argument" for the appeal to respect the most frail and vulnerable, who he upheld during his pontificate.

Who can say his life was not fruitful, when his body was able to climb snow-capped summits or vacation on Strawberry Island in Lake Simcoe in 2002, during World Youth Day in Canada?

Who didn't feel the paradoxical influence of his presence, when his voice was muted?

In our youth-obsessed culture, Pope John Paul II reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human.

Where the old and infirm are so easily put in homes and forgotten, the Pope was a powerful reminder that the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value.

John Paul II taught us how to live, to suffer and to die. May he watch over us now and strengthen us as we turn the tide in our time.