No one likes pain. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable, and oftentimes inconvenient. Our secular world heartily acknowledges that pointless suffering should be stopped. People with terminal illnesses deserve our care and our compassion, but as euthanasia gains acceptance in our society, compassion has begun to mean choosing the time of death instead of helping the sick person bear his suffering.
Millions of people are afraid of their illnesses and many fear losing control of their own bodies through disease or old age. To some people suffering from a terminal illness, deciding a time to die gives a strange sense of peace, knowing that the inevitable—death—is carefully planned on their own terms.
Many people who commit suicide through euthanasia make their decision because of potential or current suffering. But should death be an antidote for suffering? As pro-lifers, we should equip ourselves with information so that we can thoughtfully educate those who believe euthanasia is acceptable. Here are three common concerns about the meaning of suffering and death and how to address them.
Why do we fear suffering and death?
We often fear suffering and death because we have no control over them. We can control what we eat, what music we listen to, and what clothes we wear because we think, “It’s my body and my choice.” But is it really? We live in a culture which not only accepts but values an individual’s right to make choices about his future and how he wants to live his life.
Our society tells us that life is not a game of chance and that it is up to us to do whatever feels good to avoid suffering. Faced with death, people of this modern age quiver in their boots. Suffering has no meaning in a feel-good culture. Pain seems pointless because the secular world cannot see a redeeming value in suffering. But we’re forgetting one thing—the love and care of our Creator.
We are not mindless creatures scurrying around the earth waiting for a ruthless higher power to strike us dead in a fit of wrath or amusement. God created each one of us out of love as a unique individual who will never be repeated. Even secularists have to agree that, biologically, we are vastly different from one another. The place that we fill on this earth can’t ever be filled by another person. Think about it: Out of seven billion people who are currently alive, and all the billions and trillions of people from the past and the future, you are the one and only you.
God has a plan for each one of us. Despite His unconditional love for us, God never promised that our lives on earth would be free from suffering. Remember that even after baptism, we still have the stain of original sin to bear in our broken world. Just as God appointed the time for each of us to be born, He also arranged the time when He would call us home to Himself. Death is inevitable, but what about suffering?
God created each one of us out of love as a unique individual who will never be repeated.
In the garden of Gethsemane, just before He started on the road to Calvary, Jesus asked God the Father if there was a way that He could avoid having to die on the cross. Jesus understood the ingratitude of the world and the weight of the sins that He would have to bear, but He also knew that His gift of self through His death on the cross would remain a lasting reminder for us of how much He loves us.
Jesus was also fighting a spiritual battle over sin and death. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we must change the way we think about suffering and death. As Christians, we know that our lives do not end when we surrender our bodies to the grave. Death is merely a threshold that we pass over to get to eternal life. God’s greatest gift to us is life—not only our lives here on earth, but the gift of eternal life that He gave to us through His death on the cross.
In our suffering, God gives us the opportunity to unite ourselves to His son through Christ’s death on the cross. When we suffer with Christ and offer up our pain to Him, we are given the opportunity not to suffer in vain. Sometimes God allows us to suffer, knowing that our suffering will draw us closer to Him. Our sufferings then become a prayer and a sacrifice as God turns something unpleasant and bad into something good and meaningful.
I don’t want my loved one to suffer
It can be very difficult to watch someone you love suffer, especially throughout a terminal illness. Euthanasia advocates propose death—putting someone “out of his misery”—as the only solution to pain and suffering. Individuals who face incredible pain and suffering deserve our support and our compassion, not a death sentence! Death is not compassionate care; it denies the kinship that we have with one another as members of the human family.
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, after Cain murders his brother Abel, he explains to God that he is not his “brother’s keeper.” The story of the first murder strikes at the heart of the problem with euthanasia. As members of the human family, we are all our “brother’s keepers” in that God expects us to care for the other human beings around us. Destroying another person through murder is a grave sin against God because it denies God His role as the Creator, but it is also a hurt against the human family because it tears apart that bond that we have with each other.
It’s a work of mercy to care for those who are suffering. By comforting the afflicted through caring for the sick and those who are nearing the end of their lives, we have the extraordinary opportunity to receive great graces from God. As we care for those who are sick and those who are terminally ill, we should always look for ways to comfort them and alleviate their suffering. True compassionate care and denial of euthanasia does not mean that an individual has to suffer excruciating pain unnecessarily. Rather, each person is cared for in a way that respects his life, comforts him in his suffering, and understands God’s role as the Author of Life and the Final Judge.
What is my role?
When faced with questions about suffering and death, it is important to remember the close bond that we share with other people and to think about how our actions toward the ill or the dying are honoring God as the Creator and Author of Life. Instead of making death an option in end-of-life care, we should work to give patients hope for eternal life by preparing them to meet their Maker when He decides to call them home. There are many things you can do for people who are suffering or nearing the end of their lives. Here are a few ideas:
- Pray. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is particularly efficacious for those suffering or dying. Even if members of our immediate family are not in danger of death, we should pray for those people in our community or parish who are nearing the end of their lives.
- Visit the sick. Those who are nearing the end of their lives often do not have relatives or friends who visit them. Visit a nursing home or hospital to bring joy and peace to the suffering and remind them that they have not been forgotten.
- Educate yourself. Euthanasia is swiftly becoming the next vital pro-life issue in America. Our one-class unit study for high school students, Euthanasia: An Introduction, gives a basic overview of the language surrounding euthanasia, what the Catholic Church teaches about end-of-life care, and shows students real-life examples of euthanasia in action.
Laura Kizior is the Digital Media and Communciations Manager for the Culture of Life Studies Program. Her work has appeared on Verily.com, CatholicMom.com, LifeSiteNews.com, Celebrate Life Magazine, TeachersSavingChildren.org, and in the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance newsletter.