As Christians we have a duty to work for the preservation of all human life. This quite rightly means that Christians take an interest in matters of justice and freedom, and that they seek to work for the promotion of a culture of life in all parts of society. This will naturally mean reaching to those who are marginalised and on the edge of society. As those seeking to promote a culture of life we are often called not to use the ‘slippery slope’ argument in our opposition to euthanasia and abortion. In the Netherlands euthanasia is now permitted in many different circumstances and the country’s ‘right to die’ medical code has allowed practices to develop that simply show no care for human life. Dutch doctors are now permitted to sedate euthanasia patients and this has led in one case to the overturning over a murder charge against a nursing home doctor who put a sedative in a patient’s drink in order to be able to administer euthanasia. One haunting report recalls a patient for euthanasia sitting up in bed to avoid being given the injection and being pushed back down by a relative so that the injection might be administered. There will be those in this country who argue for more permissive ‘right to die’ legislation and the introduction of euthanasia. Even if one was to accept assurances of safeguards and regulations the reports from the Netherlands would suggest that once euthanasia has been legalised the boundaries continue to pushed back to allow for more and more instances of assisted dying where such a course of action is not the desire of the patient. It is important to remember that just because a disease is incurable that does not mean the person is not to be cared for. Pope St John Paul II reiterated that as much as possible a patient should be accompanied through suffering with love and care, and that it is the loneliness of illness that can be the most difficult to cope with. In a more recent document published this year Pope Francis makes it clear that euthanasia is part of what he sees as a ‘throwaway society’ and that euthanasia is an example of false ‘compassion’. True compassion “consists not in causing death”, but in affectionately welcoming and supporting the person who is sick; and providing the means to alleviate his or her suffering. Another obstacle it lists is a growing individualism that provokes loneliness. The emphasis should then be on palliative care, properly understood as caring for someone at the end of their life and making them as comfortable as is possible. Protecting the dignity of death means excluding aggressive medical treatments. Therefore, when death is imminent and inevitable, “it is lawful…to renounce treatments that provide only a precarious or painful extension of life”, without, however, interrupting necessary ordinary treatments the patient requires, such as food and hydration “as long as the body can benefit from them”. Palliative care is a “precious and crucial instrument” with which to accompany the patient. Palliative care must never include the possibility of euthanasia; but should include the spiritual assistance of both the person who is sick and the members of their families. It is very important that families feel supported as they in their turn support those coming to the end of their lives, it is important that no one is made to feel that they are in any way a burden or causing problems or issues. As Christians we have a duty to work for the protection of human life and to further the promotion of a culture of life in which each human life is celebrated and cared for. We can do this by campaigning in issues of life and being aware of political moves to challenge the sanctity of human life. We can also support our local hospice and places where end of life care is offered. These issues can be difficult to talk about but it is important that we do talk and pray about them. It is easy to allow small steps to be taken in the name of compassion and for these to lead to much more drastic outcomes as has happened in the Netherlands.
April next year marks the 300th edition of New Directions. It is hard to believe that a publication that began as a pull out supplement in the Church of England Newspaper (‘Directions’) should as a magazine have run for so long. The 300th edition of the magazine will also be Fr Philip Corbett’s last in his role as editor. We look forward to bringing you news of his successor in the editor’s chair and to many more years of New Directions.