The traditional phrase “from conception to natural death,” which describes the creative power of God and is most commonly seen in Catholic Church documents, has become troublesome.
The problem is not that the phrase is wrong if one thinks with the mind of the Church; the problem is that it does not embrace the cultural shift away from God’s power over life and death that has occurred in the last hundred years or more.
Politics and science
In current political and quasi-philosophical arguments, “conception” has been redefined to mean fertilization, in the womb, or implantation. Defining life as beginning at implantation is a dangerous step in logic because a human being is formed many days before he attaches to the womb of the mother.
In Catholic teaching, the word “conception” carries a beautiful meaning. For example, the term “Immaculate Conception” applies to the state of Mary’s soul when she came into existence and is therefore not to be confused with the term “conception” as used by politicians and abortion advocates.
While the Church continues to use the word, today we realize scientifically and otherwise that the term “conception” is lacking in worldly matters as it does not take into account the children who are naturally created asexually (as with identical twins) or scientifically created asexually (as with artificial reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization).
Protecting all human beings
Our use of the word “creation,” which means biological beginning/conception/fertilization, is a more precise term that takes into account all human beings regardless of how they came into existence. No human person should be denied the right to life based on how the beginning of his life is defined.
The term “natural death” poses another set of problems. Professor Dianne Irving has examined the question and explains, among other things, that
legally, since the courts must interpret formal legal definitions as “exclusionary,” the phrase “until natural death” is also deadly. It isn’t even logical. If we are only supposed to respect the lives of human beings who die “naturally,” then legally that does not apply to any human beings who die “unnaturally”—such as those human beings who are murdered, killed in car accidents or war, die of cancer or other terrible diseases, etc.
In fact, how many human beings that you know of actually die a “natural death”? Nor would that phrase include any living human embryos killed in abortions, destructive research, etc.—either sexually or asexually reproduced.
Further, in recent times we have witnessed proponents of euthanasia using the term “natural death.” For them the term has come to mean a lot of things that actually are not in conformity with Catholic teaching regarding the manner in which God deigns to take one of His children home when physical death of the body occurs.
Among those abusing the term “natural death” are end-of-life and palliative care providers and those in healthcare who use the “allow natural death” (AND) protocol. This protocol is often defined as end-of-life “care” meaning “do not resuscitate” and “do not intubate.”
The problem is that such practices negate doing anything, including providing comfort care to a patient deemed to be facing imminent death or diagnosed as brain dead. Terri Schiavo was one such person and her death was hideous.
According to AND definitions, no intubation would be allowed, which means that even if a ventilator might make a patient more comfortable while he is dying, or if a feeding tube would increase his comfort level while he is dying, neither would be permitted. For these reasons we do not use the term natural death.
Words matter. As parents and educators, we are charged with the difficult task of preparing our students to defend the lives of the preborn, the weak, and the terminally ill. The more we use life-affirming terminology in front of our students, the more we can train them to be effective communicators of the culture of life.
Judie Brown is President and Co-Founder of American Life League and the founder of the Culture of Life Studies Program. CLSP is dedicated to helping students become effective communicators of the pro-life message. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter to see how we can help you foster a culture of life at home and in school.
I respect life as much as anyone however I do not agree with your views on intubation and artificial nutrition. As a RN for the past 24 years I have seen many people at the end of their life and I can tell you shoving a hard plastic tube down a person’s throat in no way makes them comfortable. In addition being on a ventilstor does not guarantee that a person will not suffer from air hunger. Terry Schiavo, God rest her soul, did not suffer regardless of whst you say simply because she did not have the brain function to feel hunger. This type of article disturbs me because the general public doesn’t understand what end of life care is and you mske it more complicated. Despite all the medical interventions we have, every person will die. The question is how much do we torture a person before that happens?
Dear Friend of Life
We are saddened by your opinions regarding comfort care at the end of life. We believe strongly, as we are sure you do, in the innate dignity of the human person who is a gift to the world from God. As the Author of life He gives us the responsibility to respect that person and his dignity to the very end. That being said, when a medical professional intentionally takes an action that he or she knows will hasten the death of the patient, that is a crime against God. This is why we respect the Church teaching on comfort care for the ill and the dying including when appropriate intubation so that the patient can receive nutrition/hydration and a ventilator to assist that person in breathing.
On a personal note, I knew Terri Schiavo and her family; I know two of the priests who ministered to her at the end of her life. Terri was killed. This is why her family fights to this very day for the lives of all those deemed unworthy of life because they are ill or vulnerable.
Thank you very much for your comments.
Judie Brown, President American Life League, Inc.
It is because of people like Judie Brown that the general public CAN understand the end of life comfort care. Thank you Judie for all you do! (I also believe everything you said about Terri, God rest her beautiful soul.) – Alice