With the spread of COVID-19 increasing the risk of life-altering chronic disease in survivors, it seems like a good time to talk about the parameters of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).
… unless you’re the Vatican, in which case it would probably be better if you just stopped talking and spared the world from such spicy hot takes as “Priests should abandon patients and let them die alone if they opt for assisted suicide.”
Earlier this week, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released its latest letter entitled Samaritanus Bonus (The Good Samaritan). It might well be a response to a statement made last year by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who asserted that it would be acceptable for a priest to provide emotional support at the death of a MAiD patient because “the Lord never abandons anyone.”
The CDF disagrees emphatically. The document instructs priests to engage with prospective MAiD patients in an effort to change their minds… but if they don’t reconsider, the priests should adamantly refuse to participate in end-of-life pastoral care or be present for the patient’s death.
Here’s the logic: The end-of-life sacraments in the Church involve confessing one’s sins and being absolved by the priest. Absolution isn’t possible if the person requesting it has any intention to sin in the future.
And medically-assisted dying is a sin. In fact, says Samaritanus Bonus, it’s “intrinsically evil.” Thus:
Such a penitent can receive these sacraments only when the minister discerns his or her readiness to take concrete steps that indicate he or she has modified their decision in this regard. Thus a person who may be registered in an association to receive euthanasia or assisted suicide must manifest the intention of cancelling such a registration before receiving the sacraments.
And if they don’t? Then it hardly matters how faithful they’ve been or how deeply they believe. They can die alone and take their chances with the hereafter.
Chronically ill Catholics are left in a hostage situation of sorts, their hope of salvation withheld unless they make the doctrinally correct move and refuse medically-assisted dying. Believers face an outright coercive choice: either certain finite suffering until they are dead or the chance of infinite suffering after.
As far as the Church is concerned, though, they’re just the enforcers. God is the real mob boss in this scenario, telling people staring down the barrel of pain, decline, and lost human dignity that they’re obligated to carry on against their will because, well, the Omnipotent Creator has a fetish for suffering.
In an article published by Vatican News in tandem with the letter’s release, Dr. Colin Harte reports how spending a quarter century caring for a seriously disabled woman taught him that:
I think we don’t speak enough about the good of suffering… While doing everything possible to relieve somebody’s suffering, because that’s part of care, to realize that the suffering that cannot be relieved is valuable, it has a purpose, and it has the greatest purpose insofar as it can be offered up in union with the sufferings of Christ for the good of oneself, and in remission of one’s own sins, and also for the good of the Church and the world.
The desire to make meaning of one’s own suffering is understandable. But denying them control over their own bodies — holding that control hostage to their faith, making them choose between God and their own self-governance — is twisted.
The Church doesn’t see it that way, though. In their opinion, the suffering that takes place around death has very little to do with a painful medical condition or terminal illness. They just need more love:
Experience confirms that the pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love… A sick person, surrounded by a loving human and Christian presence, can overcome all forms of depression and need not succumb to the anguish of loneliness and abandonment to suffering and death.
That’s pretty insulting to anybody who was unable to love a cherished friend or relation out of a terminal condition or chronic disability. Even worse, it denies the reality of any sick or dying person who doesn’t agree with what the Church says, as if a passel of priests in Vatican City is the authority on the real reason they don’t want to live anymore.
To be clear, that reason is nobody else’s business beyond the individuals, their medical team, and whichever loved ones they choose to include. They are not obligated to suffer “for the good of the Church and the world,” particularly those who aren’t even Catholic.
And the Church, as per usual, does not accept that their rules should only apply to people of their own faith. The letter takes to task entire nations where MAiD has become one of the options available to terminally ill people:
The ethical and legal boundaries that protect the self-determination of the sick person are transgressed by (MAiD) legislation and, to a worrying degree, the value of human life during times of illness, the meaning of suffering, and the significance of the interval preceding death are eclipsed. Pain and death do not constitute the ultimate measures of the human dignity that is proper to every person by the very fact that they are “human beings.”
Yes, they really did try to argue that they’re looking to “protect the self-determination of the sick person.” You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.
Perhaps while the CDF looks that one up, they can also investigate a couple other terms they seem to misunderstand, though they used them in Samaritanus bonus anyway: words like acceptance, compassion, empathy.
(Image via Shutterstock)