Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do We Have the Right to End Our Lives?

I fear there is something horrible taking place in our culture. And it has been gradually happening over the last couple of decades or so. What is this horrible thing? We are becoming, more and more, a society that has stopped believing that there is never a situation in which we may kill an innocent human being in order to solve the difficulty of suffering.

I have to believe that, say, 50 years ago, when my parents were teenagers, American society took for granted that we would never look toward killing as a way out of even the hardest situations. We handle our troubles and our sorrows by pulling together, sticking with one another, being there for each other, doing all that we can for each other. And as a nation made up mostly of people who believe in Christ, we pray. We look to Jesus on the Cross. And we trust in divine providence even when we don't have all the answers.

Or, we used to.

We are more and more a nation that no longer believes that our lives do not rest, ultimately, in our own hands. Increasingly, we consider ourselves masters of our own lives. But do we have the right even to end our own lives? Yes, even if it is for the sake of cutting short our suffering?

The fate of our society as a civilized nation largely rests on the answer.

More specifically, and of particular relevance today, may we choose to end a human life by withdrawing nutrition and hydration (food and water) from someone, in order to put an end to suffering?

Well, do we still heed the commandment, "Thou Shall Not Kill"?

No matter how it is done, deliberately killing an innocent person is a direct violation of this bedrock commandment. It is not ours to choose when or how we die. Our life is a gift from God. We do not, in the ultimate sense, own our lives. We belong to God. And He tells us, thou shall not kill.

Would it be OK to go up to a hospital bed of someone in pain, put a pistol to his head, and kill him? Why not?

If this would not be OK, then why is it OK to decide to kill somebody by starving and dehydrating him to death? In both situations, the result is the same--a dead person. And in both cases, death is the desired result chosen by those who make it happen. The intention is to kill. The only difference is that killing by pistol is messier and quicker. Death by starvation and dehydration is much neater (no blood on the walls; no loud bang), and much slower (days or weeks instead of a mere fraction of a second). But morally speaking, whether you kill by pistol or kill by removing food and water--you are just as wrong. You are doing the same thing: killing the innocent, taking life into your own hands.

If we accept that we may take life into our own hands and therefore may choose to kill suffering people by keeping food and water from them, we are not far from just putting a gun to their heads. Why not just put them in a gas chamber? Why not just stick a knife in their throat? Why not just put a bag over their head? In the end, there is no real difference.

For the love of God, may we reaffirm that we are a decent, caring, compassionate, God-fearing society. May we come to our senses and realize how shockingly sick and downright evil it is to even think that we might choose to kill the innocent, by whatever means.

In other words, please do not kill your mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, by starving them and dehydrating them to death. This is not what decent human beings do to each other. We do not kill as a way to escape our pain. Part of what makes us a civilization rather than a brutal mob is that in the face of even the biggest of troubles we do not turn on each other or abandon each other; we turn toward one another, share each others' burdens, and lift each other up in prayer. We hold each others' hands, we wash each others' bodies, we place food in the mouths of those who cannot feed themselves and provide water to those who cannot drink unaided.

Do we still believe that God has a mysterious plan, though partly hidden, for each of our lives? Do we no longer realize that we did not give ourselves the gift of life? Do we not know that God loves each of us no matter what? Do we not understand that as soon as we accept, in any situation, that we may choose to kill the innocent as a way to solve our problems that we will have at that moment become an inhuman, barbaric, decaying society that has chosen a path of hopelessness and despair over love and compassion?

Thou Shall Not Kill???

Unless we do it in a slow, bloodless, quiet way that seems so easy, by holding back food and water and  providing pain medication so our target starves and dehydrates comfortably? In a sane world, this is called murder.

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