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Myth versus reality

We all seek a compassionate response to suffering. There is however a great deal of misunderstanding about true compassion, what euthanasia is and equally, what it is not. Here we provide information on these questions.

Administering drugs with the intention of relieving pain is not euthanasia. Where alleviating pain is the intention of a medical professional, it is not only ethical, but best practice in medical care and consistent with Catholic teaching. Even if such pain relief could be foreseen to shorten the person’s life, (which, given the improvements in palliative care in recent years, is unlikely) the intention to ease suffering is noble and justified. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2279)

While some may argue that intentions don’t matter, if the end result is the same, we disagree. We regularly ask our legal system to make such judgements in distinguishing between murder, manslaughter or accidental death. Intentions do matter and society recognises them as important.
 
Refusal or withdrawal of overly burdensome treatment is not euthanasia. At some stage in the course of a life-limiting illness, a point may come where there needs to be a shift in emphasis from seeking a cure to providing comfort. While Catholics cherish life, we do not preserve it “at any cost”. In discussion with their doctors, family, and other loved ones, a person may choose not to undergo or continue treatment that they consider to be overly burdensome. Wherever possible, those decisions should be made by the person themselves but if they cannot, by a family member of another suitable advocate. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2278)

Best practice in palliative care seeks to make the transition from curative treatments to those focused on comfort and care, as smooth as possible for patients and their families.

For more information addressing some of the common misunderstandings about assisted suicide and euthanasia, read this brief publication from the Australian Catholic Bishops.

Resources

When Life is Ending

Real love, care & compassion