God alone is Author and Master of life

  • June 13, 2024

Not long ago, I was presenting a Theology of the Body series at Emmanuel Reformed Church in Whitby, Ontario. I was teaching Catholics, but some elderly women from the Reformed congregation began attending the classes. One in particular was keen to understand what Catholics believe about many different issues. When she got to the topic of euthanasia, her reasoning went along utilitarian lines. “If people can no longer contribute to society, and they don’t have many more years in front of them anyway, it’s okay to choose to die a little sooner, isn’t it?” 

Several students gently chimed in to explain to her it wasn’t okay. They asked if she had ever found any examples of God commanding euthanasia in the Bible--or rather were the elderly to be honoured, the weaker among us to be cared for, and the human dignity of the imago Dei to be always upheld? She eagerly listened as though she expected Catholics to have the definitive answer. 

We told her we don’t measure human life in “resources: monetary value, production capabilities, time left, etc. Someone who exists, is automatically precious to God, to the Church, and should be precious to their fellow human beings. We emphasized human beings are priceless no matter their condition of body or soul, and endangered human life should always be reasonably sustained until the Father decides our time of passage into eternity. (However, no one is forced to use “extraordinary means” indefinitely to preserve life rather than dying naturally.)

I don’t take lightly the serious reasons people have for determining to commit suicide (no euphemism can take away the reality of “medical assistance in dying”). It could be unmanageable pain, unremitting depression, a terminal illness, dire circumstances with seemingly no way out, chronic illness, feeling like a burden to others or overwhelming tragedy or loss. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in the midst of horrific pains,wisely counseled: “Never leave deadly medicine within reach of a sick person.” 

The bottom line is that God alone is the Author and Master of human life from its beginning to its end: not any government, law, policy, social program, false compassion or altruism, scientist, doctor, family member, ideology or insurance company. Not even we ourselves are allowed by God to have that full and total control over our own temporal destiny, to pen the final flourish of our story here on earth.

Leaving aside the gross and growing abuse in Canada and elsewhere of those euthanized against their will, euthanized under false pretenses, euthanized due to coercion, euthanized to free up a bed or retrieve organs, euthanized because they are too incapacitated to give consent, euthanized because they are too young or too old to give proper consent, I make the following arguments against euthanasia for those who might be contemplating it, or see it as a definite possibility in their remote future.

God knows how to direct the optimal orchestration of events for our salvation, so even for those who die young or suddenly, it may be that God allows this because, for a particular individual, it was the “best” time, “their” time. Lingering, even lifelong illness, can be extremely fruitful and redemptive for the one suffering, those around them, and indeed, the world. If all we can do is pray and offer ourselves and our Calvary to God and for others, perhaps even as a “victim soul,” there can be nothing more meaningful and useful. God knows exactly how much time we need in this life to put our house in order, say our goodbyes, forgive, ask for forgiveness, repent, grow in faith and virtue, grow closer to Him, do His will, reflect on our lives, right wrongs, “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” give thanks, make our final “Fiat,” and most of all, develop a stronger longing to be with God forever in Heaven (this is what Purgatory is for, in great part!) And lastly, you matter. You are invaluable. Your presence is needed, even if you are in a coma. God knows the reason. In this life, we only see the underside of the tapestry, a jumbled bunch of unintelligible knots. On the other side, we’ll see the beautiful scene, and our indispensable place in it…until the very end. 

Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns  #medianuns

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