Suffering is a grace-filled opportunity to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ. Euthanasia selfishly steals that opportunity.
This statement is jam-packed with problems. First of all, the use of the word “steals” implies that euthanasia is generally, or even always, something the living inflict upon the dying without their knowledge or consent. Grandma’s looking a little peaky; let’s put her out of her misery.
I have seen articles citing studies showing that many patients in Belgium and the Netherlands are euthanised without their knowledge or consent, and I am not prepared to comment on that except by quoting Augustine: abusus non tollit usum--abuse does not cancel out right use. Many things that are right, good and fitting are abused, and they are still right, good and fitting. A thing ought not to be outlawed because some people may abuse it. Denying the mentally competent a choice because some might take advantage of the incompetent is monstrously patronizing at best.
Secondly, end-of-life care has come a long way since the days of Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian, and the choice between suffering and suicide is largely a false dilemma. Palliative care has gotten so good that people simply do not need to die in pain the way they used to (except in very rare cases.) I do not mean to imply that the loss of control and the ever-increasing restrictions and dependency attendant on degenerative diseases are not suffering; they are, of course, and there’s nothing we can do about that, for the most part. But we are far better at controlling pain than we used to be.
But the most troubling aspect of this meme for me as a Christian is the way is abuses the Catholic notion of “offering up” our suffering, debasing the idea for the faithful and misrepresenting it to those outside.
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. –Colossians 1:24
The practice is, in itself, empowering—or can be. When suffering is inevitable, “offering it up” for God to use for redemptive purposes turns us from passive sufferers to active spiritual strivers. It gives us the option of putting our pain to spiritual use rather than simply enduring it.
The obvious question, of course, is whether such offering-up is of any value when suffering is inevitable anyway. A story from India tells of a man pouring grain from a high tower to allow the wind to blow away the chaff while the kernels fell to the ground.[i] When the wind picked up to the point where it was blowing away the whole grains, the man decided that he would offer that grain to God. If you’re going to lose something anyway, offering it up seems pretty meaningless. But is the alternative—suffering unnecessarily for the sake of being able to offer up one’s suffering--any more tenable? Does palliative care “steal” spiritual opportunity, too?
However we answer these question, these choices—whether or not to endure suffering for redemptive purposes, whether or not loss of control is endurable even in the absence of pain, whether or not to avail ourselves of palliative care—are choices that only the afflicted can make. As a Dutch blogger[ii] who suffers from a degenerative disease of the nervous system put it,
If you personally believe that euthanasia shouldn’t be done then don’t use that option. You’re free to do with your life as you wish and live it according to your views. But you cannot use those religious views to advocate for legislation that would force someone to go through something they don’t want to. Some have very good reasons to say “Please, no more.”
[i] Swami Tyagananda told this story at the Boston Vedanta Center.