Euthanasia and the Catholic Church in Australia

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Table of contents

  1. Euthanasia and the Catholic Church
  2. Proponents of legalising euthanasia
  3. Conclusion

An ethical issue is a problem or dilemma that involves a person having to decide whether or not it is morally right or wrong. Euthanasia is a clear example of an ethical issue currently present in Australia. Euthanasia is a process whereby a person who has a terminal illness, has their life ended in order to relive suffering. Euthanasia is used through three different ways, these include voluntary euthanasia, non-voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is the where the ethical debate is centred around. Voluntary euthanasia is performed at the request of the patient often when they are terminally ill, the patient should be competent and fully capable on making the decision. As of June 2019, Victoria became the first state in Australia to legalise voluntary euthanasia. The legislation only allows those who are suffering an incurable and progressive disease, illness or medical condition and are in intolerable pain. Another condition that is implemented with the legislation is that the condition must be assessed by two separate practitioners, with both practitioners expecting the condition to cause death within six months. Many people have different opinions on whether or not euthanasia should be legalised. One of the strong opponents against euthanasia is the Catholic Church as they believe euthanasia should not be legalised. However, there are many people in the general public who are in support of euthanasia, in a survey, from it was recorded that 73% of Australians support voluntary assisted dying. Therefore this essay will discuss the topic of euthanasia and the Catholic Church in terms of differing opinions.

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Euthanasia and the Catholic Church

In the society of Australia, the ethical issue of euthanasia has been discussed by many religious and non- religious individuals and groups. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, have very strong viewpoints on euthanasia, believing it devalues human life and that it is ‘morally unacceptable’. In a statement made by the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states that ‘whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.’ Following on to say, ‘Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.’ This demonstrates clearly the opinions of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church believes that voluntary euthanasia intervenes with the evolutionary process of death and that it is disrupting God’s plan for everyone. The church teaches people to let ‘nature take its course’ and to not interrupt the course of their lives. Catholics believe that life is a gift from God and that it should be kept sacred. Catholics also believe that no human has the authority to take the life of another person, even if the patient asks to do so. In Buddhism, there are mixed opinions on the voluntary euthanasia, however majority of opinions believe it is should not be allowed. The Buddhists take an approach which focuses on the states of mind of the individuals involved. For example, they believe that the chose to undergo ‘voluntary euthanasia is wrong, because it demonstrates that one's mind is in a bad state and that one has allowed physical suffering to cause mental suffering’. Buddhists believe that meditation is the most powerful painkiller and that those who may assist in the process of involuntary euthanasia may have a poor mental state after being involved with the process.

Proponents of legalising euthanasia

Contrary to these beliefs many people and groups, believe that people should have the right to die with dignity and everyone should have the right to voluntary euthanasia. People argue that ‘a civilised society should allow people to die in dignity and without pain’. People also argue that everyone’s body is different, and people should be allowed to do what they want with their body. Organisations such as Dying with Dignity, believe people should have the right to voluntary euthanasia. These organisations believes, ‘Suicide or attempted suicide is not illegal in Australia, but it is a crime to aid or abet another person to commit or attempt to commit suicide.’ Dying with Dignity also believe that ‘if a person is suffering unbearably at the end of life and there are no practical and acceptable means of either prolonging their life or ending their suffering, and if that person asks for help to die, then voluntary euthanasia should be a legal option.’ This clearly shows that groups such as Dying with Dignity, strongly believe people should have a choice how they want to die. Another secular organisation in support of the legalisation of euthanasia is Exit International, this group believe that ‘That every adult of sound mind has the right to implement plans for the end of their life so that their death is reliable, peaceful and at a time of their choosing.’ Exit International also believe that ‘control over one’s life & death to be a fundamental human right.’ Many secular organisations carry strong beliefs in that voluntary euthanasia should be a right for everyone.

An utilitarian approach to the topic of legalising euthanasia would be in favour of legalising it. Utilitarian actions aim to maximise the most happiness and to minimize the greatest amount of pain. When utilitarians assess the ethical issue, they follow the ‘Greatness Happiness Principle’, which states that actions, ‘are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness’. Utilitarianism would therefore support the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia as it is granting those in severe and intolerable pain, happiness and it is minimising their pain. The strength of viewing euthanasia in this way is that it would mean everyone was happy, however a weakness would be that it could mean too many people would be able to use euthanasia even when it wouldn’t be necessary. A moral absolutist would view this issue relying on the fixed truth and decide whether or not it is intrinsically right or wrong. They would most likely view the issue of euthanasia as wrong and not be allowed, as they may believe that this is the same as murder. A strength of this decision making is that they use a moral code and the law to make their decisions. A weakness would be that they don’t take into account any other perspectives or different circumstances surrounding the issue. When using moral relativism to assess the issue of euthanasia, it would be expected that there would be a more compassionate response in comparison to absolutism. A moral relativist would weigh up the different circumstances and decide their decision using a broader perspective. A positive of this approach is that they are taking into account more circumstances however a weakness would be that they can disregard the law and may be taking into account too many opinions.

Conclusion

Different religious opinions and secular organisations sway the discussion surrounding the legalisation of euthanasia. The Catholic Church have stayed true to their beliefs against euthanasia and influence many of their members. With the Catholic Church having a heavy influence, for a long-time majority of members of public were against euthanasia. However, slowly with the evolution of times and the opinions of those in favour of euthanasia, there has been a big shift into legalising euthanasia. Politics and different religions have a major sway in the topic of euthanasia, influencing many people whether they are religious or not. People’s views can always be swayed and with the changes in politics and religious beliefs. Also, in the modern age of new medicine, people don’t want to extend human life further, and this can also be a deciding factor. The legalisation of euthanasia continues to be and will always be a heavily debated topic and there are many contradicting opinions in the issue.    

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