Let's talk real dignity

  • August 6, 2009
{mosimage}With a contentious debate looming on the parliamentary horizon, Archbishop James Weisgerber is urging his fellow bishops to awaken Canadian Catholics to the dangers in proposed legislation that would legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.

 The wakeup call was issued by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter addressed to bishops but with words intended for us all.

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the antithesis to what should be at the heart of human civilization — trust, respect, concern and solidarity, based on reverence for all human life.”

A vote could come this fall on a private member’s bill by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde to have Canada join a handful of European nations and some U.S. states in legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. This is the third time Lalonde has tabled her bill. Although she failed in the past and the bill may die again if a fall election is called, the issue is of such fundamental importance that we ignore it at our peril.

The bill piggybacks on a fashionable, secular movement that has hijacked a noble word, dignity, and incorporated it into a slogan, “death with dignity,” and then elevated it to pre-eminence above a cherished human value, sanctity of life.

All human life has dignity. That dignity is not lessened by old age, illness, suffering, disability or death itself. Euthanizing someone suffering from extreme physical pain or emotional distress does not restore dignity. There is no dignity in assisting a suicide. Killing is not dignified ever. Dignity resides with those who, in the face of unimaginable circumstances, confront their hardship with courage and faith. Dignity comes from accepting life, not rejecting it. Dignity radiates not only from those called to suffer but from those who comfort the suffering and provide the compassion and  respect that is every person’s right for all their natural life.

Weisgerber reminds us of the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and bear it inwardly through compassion is a cruel and inhuman society.”

 Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide argue that they are on the side of compassion and individual freedom. But the opposite is true. A society that stops believing that every life has value and every person deserves respect and care, hastens the erosion of compassion and freedom.

In The Netherlands, where euthanasia was legalized in 2002, there have been several reports of people being euthanized without consent. Once a society awards itself the right to kill one person it becomes easier to kill two or three or . . . 

Lalonde’s bill is vaguely worded and would create abundant potential for abuse. But that’s not why it should be scrapped. The very notion of legalizing any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide is regressive and diminishes us all.

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